Tiffany's Toy Medium

by on Jun.15, 2011

Daniel Tiffany’s Toy Medium, which makes so many interesting connections between science/philosophy and poetry/lyricism, reminds me of Foucault’s attempts to find similar links, especially in regards to finitude, and to thought being carried out the the limit of interpretation. At the end of Birth of the Clinic he writes:

“The medical experience is related to a lyrical experience which sought its language from Holderlin to Rilke. That experience, inaugurated by the nineteenth century and from which we have not yet escaped, is bound up with the revelation of forms of finitude, death being no doubt the most threatening, but also the fullest.”

Also: the monstrous lyricism of Gravity’s Rainbow, where the lyricism of science is taken to the extreme, producing V-2 bombs, etc., and where the Rilke-obsessed Captain Blicero creates a bomb with a capsule inside in order to send one of his S&M slaves into flight, escaping gravity’s pull…a bomb that escapes the time/space coordinates of WWII in order to land on a Californian movie theater in the 70’s…a theater showing a film that might well be Gravity’s Rainbow itself…


4 comments for this entry:
  1. Josef Horáček

    This is interesting. Along similar lines, I’ve been thinking about poststructuralism (obvious examples like Derrida plus notable precursors like Benjamin and Nietzsche) as a sort of poetic revolution in philosophy – a search for new forms (or appropriation of distinctly literary forms), intense focus on language to the point where what is said becomes inseparable from the mode of saying it.

    But anyway… Tiffany mentions “forms of finitude,” but the connection between medicine and the Holderlin-Rilke poetic tradition seems to operate on the level of content. How much does Tiffany say about form? Or is that distinction too reductivist in this context?

  2. Philip Hopkins

    Yea, the condensation and abstraction of poetry has always seemed to me related to the same in math, and to some extent, broader realms of science. The lyrical method is a scientific method with related goals.

    What is Keats’ beauty/truth line but an imbalanced equation?

  3. James Pate


    Tiffany is interested in how form, or, as he puts it, “pictures,” help us grasp concepts and phenomena (such as atoms) that are beyond perception. And how poetry, like science, approaches phenomena that is both material/immaterial, such as rainbows. And this relates to the tradition of the sublime…

    He also has an interesting section where he argues materialism and realism are very much at odds with one another, which I think directly relates to poets such as Aase Berg and Ariana Reines who are materialists in the extreme, and whose materialism dissolves our usual frames for realism…

  4. Josef Horáček


    This all sounds utterly fascinating and very lucid. Thanks for the digest.