Usable Truths

Irving Feldman
Publication (US): November 1st, 2019
Publication (UK): March 15th, 2020

£14.99

Poems are creatures we put into the world to respond to us, and to whom we, in turn, respond. And marvelously there’s always room for more.

USABLE TRUTH’s small creatures also do more: recognize one another, exchange views and news, grow in their exchanges, and rejoice in the abundance of being together. Their shifting, open clusters gather to a roaming society, a dynamic vision: Not the mind contemplating the spectacle of order, but the serenity of power in action, strength moving in matters of common concern. Such resolution-in-movement must move beyond itself into the realm of possibility, of imagination – voiced in the walkers’ invitation in USABLE TRUTH’s last, but not final, words,

We don’t want to be halted by identities
– we want to go on becoming in wonder.

Coming Soon

ISBN: 9781904130994 Extent: 144pp Category:

Usable Truths

Irving Feldman writes with an immediacy, vigor, and precision of insight that make this book an exhilarating achievement. Again and again, one is brought to consider the claim of unwelcome doubts as well as unsolicited truths. His discipline and economy of phrase can survive comparison with the masters of the aphorism. – David Bromwich, Sterling Professor of English at Yale University

Aphorisms, shrewd observations, rules to live by and rules to resist—such are Irving Feldman’s usable truths. Some produce short, sharp shocks of recognition; others  need to be lingered over and lived with, unpacked like a line of metaphysical poetry. In each the fewest words enfold the fullest meaning. Like aphorists before him, Feldman looks at love and age and the way we live now, but he brings a poet’s touch to even his most philosophical insights. Usable Truths is thus what the French call a perfect livre de chevet, a book to keep on a bedside nightstand, ideal for those moments before sleep when we reflect on the strange turnings, the hits and misses, in our own lives. — Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for The Washington Post and the author of several collections of essays, most recently Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books.

‘Usable’ because these aphorisms invite us to trace—with mordant wit but also pity, and a strange courtesy—the secret life of our loves, hatreds, wonders, lies, and vanities, our forms of praise and styles of doubt, to trace their secret gifts and secret wounds, wherein we and others around us may gain and lose more than we think. They ask you to work on your creaturely listening. – Kenneth Gross, Alan F. Hilfiker Distinguished Professor of English, University of Rochester

Usable Truths is an aphoristic treasure chest. It invites the reader to reach in up to the elbows, certain to retrieve marvels of insight, satire, deflation of our vanities, celebration of our generosities, wordplay for the play’s sake, sentences built to please, provoke, press us into self-knowledge. – Alicia Ostriker, author of Waiting for the Light, New York State Poet Laureate

In Usable Truths, Irving Feldman joins Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, Blake, Emerson and a handful of other epigrammatists who alert us, with their laconic wit and wisdom, to the mansions that the mind can build in and from the smallest rooms of incisive thought. These nuggets contain a trove of riches. – Willard Spiegelman, Hughes Professor of English, emeritus, at Southern Methodist University

 

from Irving Feldman’s Usable Truths

 

To be responded to is as close as one comes in this life to immortality.

 

The prisoner of dialectics can never cease rattling his chain.

 

No atheists in foxholes? No theologians, either.

 

Many a marvelous woman has gone to Hell to prove to some fool he underestimates her.

 

Suborned to bear false witness, he said to himself, “If I don’t, some- one else will.” Whereupon, he was someone else.

 

“The Decider” didn’t decide he was The Decider, he was told he was.

 

A lie refers to nothing but itself, and so exists in a nonce language unintelligible even to the liar – until the common tongue explains its purpose and restores the lie to the world of truth.

 

What is at work in fun is purity of heart.

 

It is good to feel my feelings, exquisite to feel yours.

 

At every instant, we will one another alive, and should one die, it is, beyond loss, our defeat.

 

Every time a truth is told the world is larger.

 

Charm is a gentle ecstasy – it takes us into new worlds without requiring us to leave our world entirely behind.

 

Translation is the parasite its host devours.

 

He brays outlandish, meaningless, irresponsible things, and they feel freed to riot in moral saturnalia; high on the afflatus of empty words, they rejoice in their demagogue-hero whose license? has empowered them to take leave of their senses.

 

Oh, he’s not done with them. Master Scammer elevates his suckers. They are Stooges, his glorious Stooges now. Recruiters of new suckers, they bolster and boost him, proud to be Master Suckers.

 

Reflection is skeptical – up to the point it becomes an action launched into the unknown; superstitious now, it rubs talismanic bits of lexicon to bribe or beguile what powers guard the pathways of a thought.

 

Companionship. A pat on the back as big as Being.

 

“Go ahead, you can always get divorced.” So, to her daughter who asked her blessing, she offered – free of blaspheming expletives or dire prophecy – her wan curse.

 

Testing the extent of his Fool’s license to say anything, the shock jock spouts the taboo word while claiming the free speech a large society grants – within which the ancient rule of small groups persists: Blasphemy ain’t funny. Ostracism exacted, enacted.

 

Going away to school meant finding a compass and losing a world.

 

My compass of composition has for its cardinal points: Too heavy. Too light. Too fast. Too slow. They tell me where I am off-course.

 

Their conversation had entered a marvelous labyrinth where there were no dead ends and every tangent led back to its heart.

 

Souls sold to the Devil are damaged goods. Not to worry. The Devil isn’t cheated: he pays up with second-hand life. This whole business is depressing.

 

Imagination isn’t particular inventions but the transposition of the whole into the realm of the possible.

 

Excerpts

from Irving Feldman's Usable Truths

 

To be responded to is as close as one comes in this life to immortality.

 

The prisoner of dialectics can never cease rattling his chain.

 

No atheists in foxholes? No theologians, either.

 

Many a marvelous woman has gone to Hell to prove to some fool he underestimates her.

 

Suborned to bear false witness, he said to himself, “If I don’t, some- one else will.” Whereupon, he was someone else.

 

“The Decider” didn’t decide he was The Decider, he was told he was.

 

A lie refers to nothing but itself, and so exists in a nonce language unintelligible even to the liar – until the common tongue explains its purpose and restores the lie to the world of truth.

 

What is at work in fun is purity of heart.

 

It is good to feel my feelings, exquisite to feel yours.

 

At every instant, we will one another alive, and should one die, it is, beyond loss, our defeat.

 

Every time a truth is told the world is larger.

 

Charm is a gentle ecstasy – it takes us into new worlds without requiring us to leave our world entirely behind.

 

Translation is the parasite its host devours.

 

He brays outlandish, meaningless, irresponsible things, and they feel freed to riot in moral saturnalia; high on the afflatus of empty words, they rejoice in their demagogue-hero whose license? has empowered them to take leave of their senses.

 

Oh, he’s not done with them. Master Scammer elevates his suckers. They are Stooges, his glorious Stooges now. Recruiters of new suckers, they bolster and boost him, proud to be Master Suckers.

 

Reflection is skeptical – up to the point it becomes an action launched into the unknown; superstitious now, it rubs talismanic bits of lexicon to bribe or beguile what powers guard the pathways of a thought.

 

Companionship. A pat on the back as big as Being.

 

“Go ahead, you can always get divorced.” So, to her daughter who asked her blessing, she offered – free of blaspheming expletives or dire prophecy – her wan curse.

 

Testing the extent of his Fool’s license to say anything, the shock jock spouts the taboo word while claiming the free speech a large society grants – within which the ancient rule of small groups persists: Blasphemy ain’t funny. Ostracism exacted, enacted.

 

Going away to school meant finding a compass and losing a world.

 

My compass of composition has for its cardinal points: Too heavy. Too light. Too fast. Too slow. They tell me where I am off-course.

 

Their conversation had entered a marvelous labyrinth where there were no dead ends and every tangent led back to its heart.

 

Souls sold to the Devil are damaged goods. Not to worry. The Devil isn’t cheated: he pays up with second-hand life. This whole business is depressing.

 

Imagination isn’t particular inventions but the transposition of the whole into the realm of the possible.