Notes Toward & So On (6)
In this series of somnambulistic early-work channelings, I am not trying to legislate how to make poetry. Rather, I am searching for new frameworks for reading, interpreting, understanding.
In a witty and clever book titled Quantum Poetics, Daniel Albright investigated the science metaphors & worldviews which Pound, Eliot, Yeats & others used to explain what they were doing & how they conceptualized poetry. Particle vs. wave - the oscillation between these two determined the pattern of indeterminacy to follow. I think my musings on the symbol locate me closer to the particle end of that spectrum; Albright notes how Pound & Wyndham Lewis, especially, rejected Einstein (the magician who vaporized matter, space, time) in favor of the earlier philosophy of Leibniz & his concept of the monad : the smallest particle of thought-matter in a vital universe of mutually-mirroring microcosmi. (Oddly enough, Einstein spent his later years taking long walks in Princeton with his friend the math genius Kurt Godel, a confirmed Leibnizian.)
Is poetry a Byzantine mosaic of interpenetrating mutually-reflective correspondences, corresponding in turn to the "signatures" of Nature? Is the text a crystallization of same, a glowing object of infinite labyrinthine riddles (Joyce)?
Or, on the other hand, is language a kind of open, free-play medium for wave-vibrations - reverberations, instantaneous relativity-connections - Whitman's cosmic love-vibe (or Joyce's watery Wake)?
I think I would like to find some synthesis of the two. "Resonant symbol." & I have a hunch this morning that the path in that direction leads through the relationship of word & psyche.
What is an image, after all? A product of a certain faculty of mind - the imagination. Ancient concepts of human consciousness located three distinct areas : Reason (judgement), Imagination (conception), and Memory (knowledge).
John Henry Newman, whose great work Grammar of Assent is something I intend to look at carefully, centered the conceptual activity in something he called the "Illative Sense" - a kind of architectonic capability, fusing all three areas of mind in the work of conceptual modelling.
Language, from the beginning, has been the human conceptual-sense response to unmediated reality (experience). The poem can be seen as an end-product of the shaping activity of the illative sense (imagination, taste/judgement, memory), using that primary human tool of representation. But it more than a record of experience : it is a living image of same. How so?
First of all, words themselves present a fusion of senses (image, sound, & evocation of touch, taste & smell). Secondly, poems exhibit a reflexive or self-reflexive pattern : their sensuous qualities - rhythm, image, sound, word-play - run rings around the reader in a reverberating echo-chamber. Reflexivity is a generator of expansive dynamism, a principle of nature & art exemplified in the famous "golden section" of the Greeks, the fibonacci sequence, etc. (ie. any patterned object which contains a ratio between smaller & larger parts, which equals the ratio between the larger part & the whole).
I wrote earlier in this series about the conceptual complexity of the symbol, which faces in two directions : toward the actual object the words evoke, and toward the universe of correspondences or meanings with which it sets up reverberations. Or, as quoted from Austin Farrer, earlier : "We write in symbol when we wish our words to present, rather than analyse or prove, their subject-matter... Symbol endeavors, as it were, to be that of which it speaks, and imitates reality by the multiplicity of its significance."
Again, despite the "reverberations", I am presenting an image of poetry which seems to lean toward the Leibnizian/particle/mosaic end of the spectrum. The completed poem offers a conceptual-sense fusion or unity in dynamism; thus the critic is free to analyze it & explore its constituent parts and implications; the poem is a kind of object, rather than a wave-transmission.
But this is not the end of the story, today or any day. Because I want to go back to that with which I began this post : the notion that the image-symbol is an effect of a faculty of mind (the imagination). Newman's "illative sense" is profoundly, substantially personal, because the mental act of imaginative or conceptual synthesis of experience is just that : a kind of assent to real, as opposed to abstract or notional or merely verbal, experience. & such experience, in Newman's view, can only be personal. What are the consequences of this for our idea of poetry?
Poetry, then, becomes both a record and a communication of real experience (in Newman's sense, real experience can be imaginary : it's an imaginative rendering or conceptualization). The poem is no impersonal object : it bears the fingerprint of an individual (I'm reminded of the Borges poem about how all the texts in his librarian cosmos were really a map of his own face; or the Walt Whitman version of the "disintegrated" cosmic self). Turn over the intricate Byzantine-patterned coin-symbol-object, & you discover the profile of its maker : & the poem is a reverberant wave-pattern, a message, of the poet, from the poet, to you. The Word is a Person. (the langpo is a NY schoolie)