Monday, 11 May 2015

Bullshit Detector

Recently I have been reading writings by and about Nikola Tesla, of whom not so many people have heard, but whose inventions almost everybody uses every day. Books about him range from the (for most people) forbiddingly technical to the open-minded brain-has-dropped-out new-ageish adulatory; the best I’ve found so far is by Bernard Carlson, but even that, in spite of the author’s academic and scientific credentials, is marred by careless slips that can lead to complete misunderstanding of, for instance, the way Tesla’s first polyphase and split phase AC motors worked.

There was so much of the spectacular in Tesla’s work that, as I suggested, descriptions often contain a great deal of bullshit. Had he lived long enough to see some of these descriptions, I think he would have tried hard to invent a Bullshit Detector, and, knowing Tesla as I now feel I do, he might have succeeded.

The trouble is, the people who most need bullshit detectors are the people who generate the stuff, and who, of course, don’t think they need one. As a writer I get a lot of bullshit by e-mail. How about this, the publisher’s description of a new book of poetry?


These poems are ploughing new territories outside of the compulsion to portray any particular emotion or feeling, for what each of them demands of itself is not just ‘expression’ or an escape from expression, but to uproot the very trunk of the language which has already outgrown such things. Blandine Longre, in carving away at the object of the idol of her own primordial will, draws blood fresh from the fingertips of any reader who might happen to pick up and inspect the rough-hewn contours of her truest self—that is from the detritus of each imaginary torso-in-the-making that may float inside of our brains soon after reading her: ‘senses maddened into bone-tales distold: / fronting the words of thick-wet / their loose skeleton only savant mimicry’.

I make no apology for publishing here again a picture of the non-bullshitting poet Basil Bunting:

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