Words & Logos

There are the words in poetry, and then there is the Word. There is the written poem, and then there is the poet, the person - behind the poem, with the poem. There are mountains of texts, and then there is the Word-made-Flesh, the enacted word, the word which someone "stands by". There is the "tradition of the new," the Modern - stretching back to the Renaissance, if not before - and then there is a Way - a way which involves a resistance to novelty for its own sake : a resistance motivated by a different sense of history, a different kind of commitment. T.S. Eliot's curious and much-maligned path through poetry represents a mode (imperfect, bigoted, misguided as it was) of this "way." Welsh poet David Jones represents another example of this resistance. John Berryman was turning (returning) this way, at the end of his life.

You can focus on poetry as pure aesthetics, and you can ground your aesthetics in the modern, the contemporary - the continuous revolution of the new-for-its-own-sake. But this narrow focus represents a version of idolatry. There is another, more substantial newness which stems from the action of the Word - of the spiritual word, of the word-beyond-art, the encompassing Word - a word manifest in actual persons, substantial history.

Does this mean that we must devalue the dignity of poetry-in-itself? Must we simply harness aesthetics to more ideology, another overpowering "belief system"? Isn't this to fall into yet another (neo-Puritan, "iconoclastic") trap? Not necessarily. Because the encompassing Word-made-Flesh itself contains a dimension of creative ("incarnational") wholeness and inherent self-fulfillment. The notion (deriving from the Word) of the cosmos as a complete and beautiful creation provides the analogy which justifies the inherent value of art. But when we replace this central, primary analogy - the analogy of the imago Dei - with the concept of the autonomous centrality of Art and the Artist, we nullify the basic relationship between divine and human, spiritual and material, creator and creation. The "Logos" is this ratio - this (human, superhuman, personal) relationship.

This may sound like a strange sort of antique philosophy : but its strangeness is simply a reflection of our cultural amnesia. We have forgotten everything : in its place, we frantically pursue the "new" like hamsters on a flywheel.

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