Notes Toward & So On (8)

I know I didn't do justice to JH Newman's thinking (in Grammar of Assent). But it seems to be a part of turn-of-20th-cent. general attention to distinction between what Newman calls "the notional" & "the real"; maybe similar to TE Hulme's distinction between abstract "counter-language" and "the image".

Newman focuses on how the mind works with perception and concepts. His "illative sense" is the mental faculty with which we synthesize (1)what we actually experience with (2)our understanding : with what we sense as the inner logic or meaning of that experience. Thus through the illative sense we experience/process what for Newman is "real". This he contrasts with notions, or abstractions which are part of some verbal structure which we have not yet apprehended (or processed with the "illative sense").

Warning! I've probably got this all wrong! It is likely I haven't properly processed these notions through my own illator yet!

Nevertheless I'm interested in how the symbolic language of poetry emerges from these imaginative-illative modelling processes. Because eventually I think Robert Archambeau's & Kristen Prevallet's documentary or contingent poetics might be confronted with some difficult & productive paradoxes involving the differences between poetry & history.

History, like science, can precipitate or solidify into forms of positivism. Somehow, because it's a written document, because it's historical evidence, it's more real. Its objectivity offers the poet an avenue of escape from solitude & solipsism; its communality - after all, that happened to us - seems to strengthen the poet's rhetorical position.

Setting aside the possibility that documents can be misinterpreted (there's a good book out there somewhere, author/title I can't remember, which goes into the young Pound's unintentional misreadings of Italian Ren. documents) - & setting aside the over-familiar issue of cultural-historical relativity - it seems to me that the crux of the problem comes down to this distinction of real & notional (maybe related to TS Eliot's distinction between "information" and "knowledge").

Fundamentally, poetry & history do different things with time. History works with chronological succession, showing how the train of human actions fit into the passage of "ordinary" time. & though the historian's narration may provide all kinds of panoramic, kaleidoscopic palimpsests, the end remains the same : an interpretive recounting of "things that happened".

What does poetry do with time & history? In poetry, history is "figured" within a primary aesthetic experience (the experience of the poem). Time itself - the (aesthetic) "now" of the poem - is absorbed, elaborated, intensified, translated into a new symbolic form - a counter-time. This is the remarkable effect of the imagination's - the "illative sense's" - modelling of its own experience.

& there is no general, abstract imagination. There are shared images, shared symbols, shared histories, shared facts - but there are only individual minds and individual art works (or works by the shared activity of individuals).

Aristotle's distinction between poetry & history comes to the same position from a different direction : poetry exceeds history via its capacity to represent "universals", whereas history deals in particular events. On the face of it this sounds like a position opposite to the one I am outlining. But this is not the case. Aristotle's poetry is capable of representing universals because, in poetry, concepts have been absorbed, shaped, synthesized into a logical architectonic - experienced as real (through the pathos/ethos/logos of identification - the "illative sense").

Thus, I think Robert or Kristen's future "contingent poetries" will face the same kind of critical/aesthetic evaluation as always : that is, have the verbal materials been transmuted by the imagination? Do we recognize & respond to the authentic imprint of original experience?

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