I watched the first episode of "Cosmos", the science TV program hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson made a brief appearance in my long poem Forth of July, 10 years ago.
The initial episode laid out a fairly superficial and standard historical contrast between science and established religion. But the focus on Giordano Bruno was interesting, and the facts of that case (& other such examples of the persecution of free thought) are pretty much beyond dispute.
What occurs to me, though, is that the program seems to project some implicit philosophical or perhaps spiritual aspects. We watch Mr. Tyson sail through cosmic space and time, alone, in his cute spaceship, which looks like a sleek little smartphone. & at the conclusion, the host pulls out an old datebook belonging to his mentor, Carl Sagan, & shows us Sagan's note scheduling his upcoming meeting with Tyson, a young student at the time. Tyson expresses much love & respect for Sagan, who took a personal interest in him & helped launch his own science career.
So Cosmos, in a sense, projects the image of a somewhat "personal" cosmos. Whether gazing from the cockpit of his private spaceship, or memorializing his old friend (& prior cosmic explorer), Tyson gives us a universe framed & shadowed by himself - he personalizes it.
& it struck me today, that this notion rhymes with several strands of the "poetics" I have projected on this blog over the years. I have noted, for example, that Osip Mandelstam's interpretations of the Russian Acmeist poetic - which repeatedly proclaim poetry's alignment with this world, and the deep process of poetry involving something like helping Mankind feel at home on earth - I think this stance bears a kinship with Walt Whitman's epic project. Whitman's Song of Myself is an effort to construct a believable "I" which binds together every dimension of experience - spiritual & material, minute & vast, local & universal. There is a bond here between the American effort to "frame" Romantic idealism within a very down-to-earth idiom, and the Acmeist focus on poetry as the spiritual sanction of an earthly norm. Mandelstam :
It's not Rome the city that lives on,
but Man's place in the universe.
These elliptical lines are not a denial of the eternity of the Eternal City, but rather a description of that eternity's underlying (humane) logic.
This attitude is also declared, I think, in the philosophy of scientist Michael Polyani (which I've written about before, here & elsewhere). Polanyi asserted, & reiterated, the fundamental personal quality of all human knowledge. He found a way to do this without hedging or corroding the objectivity and universality of science. I see Polanyi's worldview as resistant to the theoretical trends (structuralism, post-structuralism) which reject the integrity of the person, which require the deconstruction of human subjectivity in order to propose their explanations of reality.
The major chords of Romantic idealism, of course, were splintered on the rocks of 19th- and especially 20th-cent. history. The skeptical Marxism of Adorno, the materialist mysticism of Walter Benjamin, the existentialist irony of Kierkegaard & Sartre - the awareness of human limits and human capacity for evil - find more intellectual assent, seem more "realistic". We inhabit an intellectual climate of ironic disbelief, doctrinaire politics, and disenchanted (often cynical) prose.
But poetry is a sort of spiritual animal. It grows out of sensibility, intuition and hope. It persists there, irrationally, despite the"thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to". The benevolent shadow of the mystery Person - like Proust in his cork-lined room, whispering his vast, integral life - transcends the whole cosmic theater. I think this viewpoint must stand near the center of the entire "Henry doctrine".