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Ambler, No. 30 [On The Literary Spirit]

The severe Schools shall never laugh me out of the Philosophy of Hermes that this visible world is but a picture of the invisible.-- Sir T. Browne

At times in this series of essays, I have alluded to the trade at which I toil throughout the week, but I have not fully explained that my trade--that of an educator and literary critic--is one based on the modern philosophy of contradiction. I say contradiction because the modern theory is that a contradiction is not only true but the basis and foundation for all thought. It is a contradiction to say that absolute truth does not exist and then to stake one’s whole life and being on the truthfulness of that statement. In the same way, the modern will prance around and state absurdities like “gender is a fiction” or “race does not actually exist” and then base his entire theory of gender and race on the reality of gender and race. Now, truth may have its foundation in paradox. Man may be most alive when he gives up his life for another. But to waltz around this planet and proclaim that nothing of consequence actually exists is the same as saying the theorist does not exist. And if the theorist does not exist, it becomes increasingly hard to take the theorist seriously--as hard as any other fiction. It would certainly not be such a horrible thing if the theorist was a fiction, for then no one would actually listen to him. But the modern contradiction is that the theorist proclaims that he’s a fiction but very much asks you to treat him as a reality.

Now, theorists of literature who hold this position ought naturally to take little stock in those real theorists and be only concerned with fiction. Philosophies should not be made from Hegel or Heidegger; they should be made from Huck Finn and Boo Radley. The reality, of course, is that the last thing that should be taken seriously in a literature classroom is literature. A modern classroom reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets will talk for forty-five minutes about the (fictional) gender of the recipient and five minutes about the words on the page or love. The unfortunate reality is that the theorist has now trumped the artist. We used to, albeit incorrectly, assert “art for art’s sake.” We now proclaim “theory for theory's sake.” Classes and seminars are devoted to theory instead of art. And the real reason the theorist is so afraid of the artist is because the artist shows the theorist that the most beautiful things in this world are the general truths all men share. The man who is truly literary is that man who acknowledges those common things that bind us and yet can see them as if they were uncommon.


Because much of my time is spent listening to lunatic theories, I try to spend a good deal of time with people who I deem common men--those Joe Gargery’s who walk among us. The academic should do a couple of things each week to escape that geyser of nonsense that springs forth from his colleagues on a daily basis. He ought to spend a good amount of time outside, and he ought to have as many discussions as possible with common men--men that care nothing for theory because common sense is their guide. I say, the modern academic would do well to try out his theory on the janitor. But as I was saying, this past week I thought it wise to go on an epic hike with two friends who know nothing about literary theory but know enough of Tolkien to know beauty when they see it. The hike consisted of treacherous marshes, and we weaved our way through bramble that towered over our heads. It happened that we were in a rather large cove, and peering out to the west, we spotted, about a mile by way of the flight, that area of land that was the corner of the cove and the larger part of the lake. As common men, we decided that it would be foolish not to make way to that area where we would set up a fire for dinner. So we headed out through the marshes and bramble, located in various coves within the larger cover. Thundering sounds proceeded from the nearby army base, and we pretended to believe that old ships were attacking each other across the way.

Over two and a half hours later, we arrived at our destination just as the sun was setting over the northwest banks of the lake. A small boat was within the cove, but presumably after hearing us jabber on about hitching a ride back, it left us. As that sun slowly sank and gave off its final flares, our own fire--a tiny sun in itself--commenced its flames, and two pipes were pulled out of back packs, in which coal black tobacco was also lit making yet two more tiny red suns in our smoking bowls. Our three tiny suns worked in unison with the larger sun as we waited for the fire to die down and produce red coals. I mentioned we should take our shirts off and find a conch so we would know who was allowed to make decisions. Only one of my common friends got the reference, but I must note he only agreed and didn’t say a word about gender.

The sun did descend finally and it became increasingly difficult for us to see. I must note how much we did see, however, even after the sun was firmly set beyond the hills. Dinner was eaten in the shadows of dusk on a flat piece of wood and a spoon made from a stick. We made up some modern, nonsensical poems about the cove but made sure they were very serious, as most modern poetry is. Eventually, the sun completely descended and thousands of new suns shone forth against the black sky--suns that complimented the embers in our bowls and the fire. After pushing the fire off the cliff and packing our bags, we headed back in the cold and dark. The temperature had dropped ten to fifteen degrees, and without a flashlight, it was nigh impossible to see.


We had to once again make our way through the tall bramble, but this time, we did so with only a flashlight as our guide. About three-quarters of the way through, we noticed a rumbling of some sort in the bramble. We froze. We waited. Cautiously walking toward the noise--our destination lie in that direction--we remembered that earlier we heard the sound of coyotes in the distance. But with one mighty thrust the great blue heron appeared from behind the bramble scurrying along the ground with a hurt wing. We were about ten feet from the beast, and its wings and bill looked quite enormous from up so close. A man is fortunate to see these great beasts in their majestic flight. He is even more fortunate to see them perched on a stone like a great king from a short distance. But never had I observed the great heron take on the attitude of fear. It had always looked in control; it had always looked as the authority of the cove. And now here were three bumbling explorers with a flashlight, staring with wide eyes at the majestic creature who could peck our eyes out with its beak--at least four feet long. And yet we are the ones sending fear into the heron. We were the ones who could be ambling about in the wilderness and find great wonder in the world. I say, it is the common man who alone is left to wonder in this world. The theorists have so filled their heads theory, they’ve forgotten that theory is only a sign pointing to a reality. “Theory for theory’s sake” is as helpful as “air for air’s sake.” You necessarily need theory, but if you do not use theory to enjoy literature but literature to enjoy theory, you will only learn to read literature poorly and enjoy bronze over gold. You will, in effect, be a great heron who cannot fly because he believes his wings are made for walking. And if the theory itself is a theory of fiction, then I suppose he will never fly, for he is a heron without wings.

Sam Snow,
Written with a head cold,
October 26, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
In The Catacombs of Kansas State,
October 28, 2014

Painting: "Heron"
By Cedric Lockwood Morris
Oil on canvas, 1941 




Had you been born in the Middle Ages,
you probably would have been a blacksmith,
my eye doctor tells me,
while I try to make sense of the fuzz in everything.
Lenses click delicate
in and out of the phoropter; 

Better with one here, or two?

And the click is a clang, and the delicate harsh,
and I’m hammering white-hot, misshapen metal,
spark showers like geysers, embers cooling
in the dirt. Here I find a me
before the science of the corrective lens,
brow sweat never dry, face streaked with soot,
flexing burn-scarred hands, hunched before the forge.
Each turn on the anvil fashions an edge
still out of focus, trusted only by its heft,
its shape, its glow. A plunge into slack tub,
submerge, smoke of the rapid cool, and out again,
a sheen like the gloss of fresh ink. 

Were I to write him a letter
to mail through time and circumstance—
this might be its salutation,
though I would compose it in the old way:
a wisp of quill tucked between forefinger and thumb,
faint scratch against parchment, measured dips to inkwell. 

Letter finished, I would look out the window,
maybe to watch robins splash and flutter in a birdbath,
maybe to see something else entirely,
but look! My writing arm—sprawled
across the still-drying script, lifted away, rotated,
a helix of black traced over the veins.

Bryn Homuth
In the waiting room of a clinic, Minneapolis, MN
October 22, 2014

"The Blacksmith"
Oil on Panel - 1910
Paul Henry


On Manhattan: An Unpublished Work

It so seems that the unfortunate Father Time has slithered his way into my usual weekend routine, hindering me from composing my weekly Ambler. Thus, I present to you, dear reader, a work I sent to the local papers for publishing that was met with either completely disdain or, what is more likely, neglect. It is a simple bit about the town in which I temporarily reside.

If one happens to be out among the western hills of Manhattan, west of the Seth Child Commons shopping center, and is so inclined to travel up Arbor Drive, turning north onto Warner Park Road, he will meet an open field. And in the field lies a lonely stone in between a black, full-size replica of a trooper and an informational placard about a man and his two wives. This man was Kern Warner.

As I ambled my way to this peculiar spot in the heat of an afternoon, I took in the scenery. To the west was the Miller Ranch subdivision, and, like many spots in Manhattan, one looking out in this direction believes he can see forever along different shades of the green, rolling hills of the central plains.

The east afforded me an equally enjoyable view as I was surrounded by tall grass that in the days gone by ruled the land. The walking path led down to a cluster of trees a wilder imagination might believe to be an enchanted forest.

But my course was not meant for the path, and I made my way through the tall grass to that lone stone, trooper and informational placard. I read about Warner Park – over 80 acres of land situated in between a shopping center and a subdivision. The land is largely undeveloped, and I imagined troopers like the one by my side roaming the landscape and making discoveries.

I thought about how it is becoming harder to make discoveries.

I thought about how if one explored that wooded area in Warner Park he was more likely to find a cheap beer can than two boys making a fort.

But I thought, primarily, about Manhattan.

There is a common notion in our country that Kansas is rather dull, and by consequence, its towns suffer from this same characterization. But the man who believes that Manhattan is dull has probably only ever been to Aggieville and never once stood atop Warner Park Hill by Kern Warner’s memory and the daunting Trooper. He has never looked westward with that Trooper, imagining the valley of the Miller Ranch homes before the development, seeing those luscious green hills as uncharted territory—an immense green sea with stagnant waves. He has never seen the sun sink like a submerged lifeboat sending out flares minutes before it goes down to the depths of that green sea.

He has never stood on the banks of the Blue and been bewildered at its lack of blueness, or ascended the front side of Manhattan hill, singing a war song as if he is conquering the hill and the region, ever ready to stake the “flag of Manhattan” wherever he goes. He has never stood atop the Top of the World and actually believed it to be the top of the world.

He has never seen Manhattan as the world.

But, as an outsider, the memory of Kern Warner’s contribution to Warner Park is the memory of Manhattan, a town that is full of life because it is full of nature. It is a town that preserves areas of land, keeping them relatively undeveloped. In doing this Manhattan invites its citizens to wander outside, to discover the small nooks and crannies that, though small, offer views big enough to catch a grand glimpse of or our world.

Sam Snow,
Written at Kansas State University,
Manhattan, KS,
Early September, 2014

Painting: "Trooper in Full Marching Order"
By Alfred James Munnings
Oil on canvas, n.d.


The Killjoy Critics Generate and Translate Modern Poems

Anyone who knows anything about good modern poetry knows that the point is utter confusion and depression. Though poets such as Bryn Homuth have tried to bring sense, hope, and wit back into modern poems, we Killjoy Critics firmly believe history is moving toward chaos and that our poetry should do the same. It has so happened that two modern Killjoy Critics have penned poems in past month, each doing so with different techniques.

Sam Snow practices the art of "generating" modern poems. Upon finding a webisite that generates random words, the esteemed Mr. Snow pens such mighty work like the following gems:

"$hocking Divorce"
$hocking divorce, ransom,

heartbroken frog
caressed neck
biblical la$$o
blasted parasite, alienated,
the audacity of perverts
beauty of OXEN IN CITIES
the bu$$ine$$ of iguanas
(me) it's about (me!)
I am
I am an amnesiac.

--Sam Snow, 10 October 2014  

"Savage Beekeeper"
Savage beekeeper, awful kidnapper

​​Destroy, disbeliever
Tongue droppings create
awful existence.

--Sam Snow, 16 October 2014 

The esteemed R. Eric Tippin has also written some interesting works of late. Now, his method differs in that he writes a poem in plain English, translates that poem to a different language (usualy Latin, I believe), and then translates it back to English. As you will see, this process improves his poetry in every way, conforming it to sound Killjoy principles.


The Orginal version of "I Wrote this poem like a lightening bolt"
I wrote this poem like a lightening bolt,
But it wasn’t good enough for general consumption—man or beast.
So I put it in a grinder, and out came a beast.
I thought “This is equivocation and possibly irony, though I didn’t listen in school.”
Now my poem has upward mobility in the sublime groves of acadaimia—
Ah! I have used a banality.

The translated, final, version, titled "Like a song, I wrote"
Like a song I wrote, bolts,
Again, it is common enough to the end of the - the disappearance of a man and a beast of burden.
Size and I speak, I went out, and is an animal.
I thought, "that is to say, at all, in an equivocal sense irony, in the school , and have not hearkened unto me."
She now is with this in the deep forests move both up acadaimia-
Ah! Banality, from which I have used.

--R. Eric Tippin, 10 October 2014

The Orginal version of "Tanya":
Tanya sat alone—like the oldest tortoise in a clan.
Tanya sat musing—not to be confused with amusing (That would be mean to Tanya).
Tanya grew older—like the earth in space and time.
Tanya met death—like a stranger at a mixer.
Tanya declined.

And the translated version:
Tanya sat alone—as in the most ancient tortoise, by the children .
Tanya was sitting—and perhaps he is talking, he shall not be jumbled together with the license (it would be to the middle of Tanya).
As an adult—in the land of Tanya centuries.
Tanya is being cut off—as in strange.
In a mixer Tanya declined.
--R. Eric Tippin, 16 October 2014

Sam Snow,
Written in The Catacombs,
Kansas State University,
October 10th and 16th, 2014

Painting: "A Philosopher-Poet"
Jusepe de Ribera
Oil on canvas, 17th c.


Ambler, No. 29 [On Trans-Scribes and Their Work]

It must needs be a barren Profession to confine unto that of drawing of teeth -- Sir Thomas Browne

Those brave souls who not only suffer through weeks of my muddled prose but also make their way to the end of each essay will notice that slight changes have taken place. Now, a change in a thing may seem slight to a man on the outside but be a much bigger deal to the man who has actively undergone the change. If, for example, a man is married, there is a very real sense in which his wife will request that he remove his mustache. Never mind that the wife may be unaware of the gravity of such a request; never mind the mustache sits atop the upper lip of the man with the same elegance and authority as a cat sitting atop a mantle, looking out upon those who are beneath him; never mind that the man who dawns a mustache is usually the funniest man in the room; never mind all these things, and mind for once the man who is chastised for dawning such an emblem of magisterial authority; mind the fact that when the man is asked, nay commanded, by his wife to discard his mustache, that it is like taking away the wizard’s staff or chopping the trunk off an elephant; mind that though we always do a double--if not triple--take at the man newly shaved of his mustache, that though those on the outside of the situation are certainly uncomfortable, they are not nearly as uncomfortable as the man without his mustache. For change, be it good or bad, is always felt the most from within.

As I was saying, the brave souls who actually read these ravings have more than likely noticed a significant change over the course of the last month; they have noticed that since "Ambler, No. 20 [On Townism]" a certain Adam the Scribe has graced his presence in this series of essays as my majestic trans-scribe.


A trans-scribe is a very handy thing to have. My faithful followers will know that perhaps nothing gets under my skin more than staring at a computer screen; thus, each of these Amblers has been written by hand with the inevitable problem of both having an audience and not putting my work online. Consequently, the horrendous task of trans-scribing my work takes place each week. There may be no task under the sun so laborious and frustrating as the task of trans-scribing one’s own work. It inevitably happens when one trans-scribes his own writing that he inevitably chastises himself for writing such horrid thoughts in such a loquacious way and yet expects the reading public to accept it. In short, trans-scribing a man’s work makes you relatively intimate with that work, and a man should never be too attached to his own work.

That said, I was chewing the fat one day with a co-worker this past summer, and we lamented the terrible process of applying to American Ph.D. programs. That academics are arrogant may be best noted in the insane variety of application processes one finds at the institutions of indoctrination called universities. I for one am altogether too lazy to bother with the process to do it too many times over, and so to sum up, as I was mulling this over with my colleague, I decided on that fateful day that I desperately needed a secretary. There is too little praise given to secretaries in this country. They do work that many a woman can do but that no man will last ten minutes doing. I say, National Secretary Day should be a national holiday for secretaries, with a parade in their honor. If we took just one day of the year and had every secretary paraded through the towns like the queens they are, then we would know the true value of secretaries. Imagine bounding into the dentist’s office only to find to your horror that Dr. Molar is behind the desk attempting to answer the phone humanely and schedule an appointment on a schedule he cannot seem to place; imagine Dr. Crown scribling some furious note to the hygienist about how he has just received news that Johnny (poor Johnny is always picked on) is allergic to fluoride; imagine the hygienists, in this moment of peril, trying to make sense of the words and searching for Dr. Crown who has fled the scene and gone to the parade to beg that his secretary return before Dr. Molar gives Johnny Susie’s braces and puts Susie's crown on Johnny.

As I was saying, the need for a secretary was great but it came with two problems. First, a secretary is usually a woman, and more importantly I have no means to pay a secretary, and really what I needed was a trans-scribe who could save me the trouble of writing these essays twice.


Now a good trans-scribe has many qualities. He must be both punctual and careful in his work. A man with a trans-scribe is always liable to being unfairly maligned and depicted, for a trans-scribe may easily misquote the author. But I have said it somewhere else, and I think it is true that our society needs more pointless jobs. Why just the other day I was told that the cameras atop the traffic lights were not taking pictures of men who neglected to stop but were instead directing the flow of traffic through some awful algorithm. Now we moan and complain about the lack of jobs in this country, and then we don’t do the sensible thing. We don’t tear down the cameras and replace them with men. How much more excitement would intersections accrue if instead of a silly camera directing traffic a man attempted it? If all our intersections had men running them, it may cause so much consternation that we would finally do away with the dreadful automobile once and for all.

In any case, I decided that I would advertise for a trans-scribe, and believe it or not someone responded to my call, and since then I have had to get a new trans-scribe, though I bear no ill-will towards the last. Any man who undertakes such a job for me will forever be praised. For I am not sure I will ever be able to function again without a trans-scribe. And this reminds me that I was going to discuss the good qualities of a scribe.

Now, a good trans-scribe asks no questions about the content he is trans-scribing. A trans-scribe who quarrels with his boss about the nature of the content is over-stepping his boundaries. If he misquotes his boss, then I say the author has every right to compose scathing poems to the scribe as Chaucer did to his. No, a good trans-scribe will do the work like Bartleby, Mellville’s famous scrivener. He will come in and do the work without any qualms, only questioning whether a word is what it appears to be on the page. He can, of course, offer suggestions as to the choice of words or their arrangement, so that the author does not sound like a complete idiot in having chosen the wrong word. In my case, I hold there needs to be more men writing as the old days--by hand, and that old occupation of scribe work should reemerge from the ashes. There ought to be more Bartleby’s out there, though this comes with a catch. For if one has a scribe in the line of Bartleby, he should never request him to do something he prefers not to do and run the risk of that scribe preferring to not even scribe. He even runs the risk of that scribe making a home out of his desk, which in the case of my trans-scribe and his desk would make for an awfully small abode.

Sam Snow,
Written in The Catacombs,
Kansas State University,
October 12, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
In The Catacombs of KSU,
October 14, 2014

Painting: "The Scribe"
By George Cattermole,
Oil on Millboard, n.d.