Fleeting notes (in midst of work) to Josh's post of yesterday:

Like most oppositions, Altieri's is probably both a necessary discrimination, and an oversimplification. A period style cannot be reduced to one-word labels (lucidity/lyricism). What for example is the role of the so-called 'scenic' in establishing a 'lucid' storyline, a narrative which embodies a particular moral/ political challenge? The "scenic" can't so easily be dismissed. Witness the poetry of Anne Winter.

On another issue: one should be careful not to assume clear separations or grant simple "objectivity" to, or simple causal relations between, literature on the one hand, and socio-historical changes on the other. Josh seems to be presenting another version of the Marxist-materialist "superstructure" causal theory of art & culture. Stephen Prickett has a lot of helpful things to say about this (see previous posts on his book Words and The Word).

The "indeterminacy" mode of much postmodern art & literature was part of a philosophical era which emphasized our inability to define or separate the subjective from the objective. But Prickett argues that the Kantian & post-Kantian paradigms, which underlie that trend in philosophy & literature, cannot do away with a shared human sense of experience per se (however much our words for it change through time). He points to A.D. Nuttalls' approach to Shakespeare (A New Mimesis) & other writers. Nuttall emphasizes how powerful felt experience breaks through the stylizations of each literary era (the complexity of Shakespeare's characters & situations breaks through the monarchical-classical literary dicta & crystallized rhetorical artifice of the time; in the same way the personal drama of King David depicted in the Bible breaks through the literary ideology meant to shape and contain it). Prickett shows how Nuttall's approach is close to, but not quite the same as, that of Bakhtin; but I can't get into the complexities of all that here.

We could look at this blog symposium on the future of post-post-post-indeterminacy etc. as a search for a critical vocabulary for what kind of poetry breaks through our own period stylizations into something new & compelling. Prickett returns the focus to the pivotal role of metaphor. Metaphor, he says, stands between diction/etymology on the one hand, and "story" (history, narrative, discourse, science, etc) on the other. Poetry circles around & centers in metaphor itself. Prickett goes back to the disjunctions of the Elijah story and the sayings of the pre-Socratics, & links them with Coleridge & other Romantics, to illuminate how metaphor creates a double-focus or double vision in order to do at least two things: 1) synthesize & relate opposites (Heraclitus' notion of the logos joining opposites in the equilibrium of the taut bow); 2) create a double-focus vision, in order to represent both new discoveries, and the inherently unrepresentable. He looks at the black-white rorschach image of the 2 profiles which form the shape of a vase : you can't see both the vase & the faces at the same time : your focus continually shifts back & forth. He links this to Dante's scene in Purgatory with Beatrice & the Griffin : when Dante sees this lion-bird directly, it's an absurdity : but when he sees it reflected in Beatrice's green eyes, he sees how the animal shifts quickly back & forth between beast & bird.

& Prickett links this, also, with the dramatic exchange when Dante first meets Beatrice again, & she chastises him : Dante, and the reader, cannot synthesize the image of Beatrice as avatar of divine justice, with her personal injustice toward him : we suddenly see the self (Dante) broken & humiliated just as he achieves the earthly paradise : the shock of this breakdown of the self reflects back on the self's (in)capacity to "comprehend" experience & reality - and then to narrate or describe it at all. We are confronted in this text with both a compelling narrative situation ("lyricism") and a paradoxical representation of the shocking and the "indescribable" (the "lucid").

That "traditional" writings (Shakespeare, Dante, Bible) already exhibit, for their times, both the problems & the solutions - both the lyrical-compelling narratives and their critical paradoxes - should give us pause. A critical estimate of what is valuable to us in poetry today cannot be based on simple oppositions between supposed socio-political-historical pressures (reified always already into ideology), on the one hand, and rejected, stereotyped or valorized period formulae, on the other.

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