Want to follow up a little on yesterday's notes.
If we assert that poetry (and creative artistic work generally) has its roots in some kind of "elsewhere", a place to some extent detached from our will, intellect, & rational calculation - well, this is a big step & has a lot of consequences.
The desire is always to integrate these three - will, intellect and imagination. But cultural history bears a lot of scars, a lot of evidence for the struggle, one way or another. Apollo vs. Dionysus. Ben Jonson (master craftsman) vs. Shakespeare (native genius).
What does it mean that ancient poetry - in its "serious" (not comic, not satiric) modes, anyway - invariably invoked the Muse? The muse is a kind of personification of the imagination's elusive unaccountability.
Probably no critical essay has been dismissed and derided in the last 50 years as has Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent", which includes statements like : "The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them." The basis for such dismissals is usually social in nature : American society in particular is more diverse and divided, less certain of its foundations or overall unity, that it was (or at least seemed to be) when Eliot wrote this 80 years ago.
But if we think of Eliot's order of poetic tradition as primarily imaginative, rather than social, or even aesthetic, then his position becomes more persuasive. Starting with Augustine's classic tripartite map of conscious - will, intellect, and imagination - let's say that in art, the imagination moves into a position of priority. The phenomenon of original invention in art - the appearance of a new concept or new vision of relations, which seems to organize all the rest of the artistic material around it - is the fruit, the product, the telos of imaginative activity. What we find beautiful in the products of art then forms or is a part of this pre-existent "ideal order". It is not an order of history or culture so much as an order of originality, an order of beauty.
Which brings me back to the idea of poetry's "otherness". No one can predict the workings of the imagination, of imaginative invention. It is a spark which ignites the whole mind and being of the artist.
One can respond to this phenomenon in diverse ways. There are those who love and serve the imagination; there are others who calculate and strive to force it into channels for their own selfish purposes. The latter route, of course, is ultimately self-defeating. Cultural history is an immense garbage dump of such vain efforts : cultural history is a joke played on us by the Muse.
Many are the critical writings which try to rationalize talent and aesthetic judgement on the basis of social frameworks and determinations. & far be it from me to suggest that poetry exists in a rarified absolute realm, distinct from ordinary social life. It seems perfectly legitimate to explore the socio-historical and generally human context, which illuminates motives and meanings implicit in the artwork itself. But if, in this endeavor, one neglects the original, instinctive spark of imaginative conception - the seed and basis of the whole process - then one has indubitably missed the boat.