9.22.2010

Epic might be personal

Another interesting and insightful diary-entry from John Latta : this one on an essay on New American Poetry by Canadian writer Brian Fawcett.

Fawcett's critique of Charles Olson's epic "imperialism" & megalomania, while not exactly original, sounds (from Latta's excerpts anyway) well-put, and hard to deny. Yet it seems to me you lose something if you reduce Pound's & Olson's epic ambitions & projects to mere egotism & ideological grandiosity. Epic ambition is in part a search for epic wholeness : that vast multiplicity-in-unity - ancient epic's synthesis of history, poetry, & cosmic vision - bringing all experience (or at least the symbolic image of same) into the microcosm of a shape, a work of art. What from one angle looks like the shadow of megalomania, narcissism & totalitarian thinking - all the basically ugly & atrocious elements of these poets' vainglory - can, from another angle, be recognized as rooted in the basic shaping impulse of art : what I have tried to describe elsewhere as the ("Acmeist") humanizing, or personalizing, of reality. I see this as a primordial artistic task, going back to the archaic shamans : the function of providing a sense of order in the cosmos through dramatization - giving meaning to experience, and order to chaos, through "playing it out."

Olson & Pound both took this high-priestly role in some dark & demagogic directions. Totalism, totalitarianism are inherent dangers of any search for wholeness through art. & we should be careful not to romanticize the irrational, self-aggrandizing impulses of same. Yet this humanizing/dramatizing/synthesizing/visionary/epic dimension is fundamental to poetry. (Classicist Charles P. Segal has explored the ambiguous duality of the poetic "pharmakon" - delusive drug or visionary guide? - in a number of studies.)

& with this in mind, I guess Pound's self-effacing disciple in the "long poem", Zukofsky, can be seen as their alter(ed) ego : so many maximus-pounds of anti-gravity. Foreshadowing, in "A", the objectification of "language" to come...

1 comment:

Kathryn Braithwaite said...

I enjoyed reading this and learned from it,