Friday Thoughts on What the Heck

For poets & readers raised on modern-postmodernism, the sovereign autonomy of art is a foundational tenet. So I would hardly be surprised if some people viewed my poetry, & my :"theoretical" writings, with suspicion : a dangerous mix of incommensurate categories, a sloshing-together of art & religion, a shackling of free imagination with dogmas of theology...

This might have something to do with the somewhat narrow, squinched contemporary sense of what a poet is, & what is a poet's proper social role. For us, today, it seems to be either/or : either one is a detached, thumbs-twiddling artiste, exuding free & playful & harmless arty baubles : or one is engaged - convinced, angry & convicted about the crisis du jour, the world situation - full of passionate intensity, ready to man the ramparts on behalf of a slogan greater than ourselves.

What's lacking for the moment, perhaps, is a confidence (across culture at large) in effective speech as a form of social action. By effective here I don't mean solely political, but rather meaningful discourse in a more general sense (social, cultural). The fact is we live in an unprecedented Babel-explosion of varying, contradictory & rivalous tweets & chirpings (including those philosophical trends which deny any purposive connection between language, meaning, & action whatsoever). So the idea of a poet, and poetry, actually contributing something of substance to more general public discourse - in poetry - seems to have grown steadily more absurd and impossible, since those (19th-cent.) days when Matthew Arnold began to voice qualms about the situation. We are far gone from the Victorian Poet-Orator.

Again, I'm not referring to the engaged poet - the populist - the voice of the streets. This kind of poetry is enjoying a great resurgence, actually : from the Occupy encampments to Kremlin Square to Tahrir Square, the rapping-tweeting poet-singer is the heroine & hero of the day. And it is certainly "effective speech", and to be admired & praised. But what I'm thinking of is a form of discourse perhaps quieter, simpler and more basic : the kind of philosophical or theological musing/reasoning which is world-shaping : foundational in terms of humankind's most basic worldview and orientation with regard to life's meaning & purposes. I mean the visionary storytelling represented by Biblical prophets, the Psalmist, Homer, Dante, Blake... many others. For example, Hesiod and the pre-Socratics shared an interest in enunciating "first and last things" : theogonies of origin, ultimate verbal formulae. This is a very ancient and primary social role taken on by poet and philosopher alike.

I wouldn't try to pole-vault myself up among that exalted company of visionary propounders. But what I can say is that I'm drawn to a sketchy outline of this mode of poetry, this concept of a poet's social role. I look to the special faculties and resources and potentialities within the specific craft and modes of poetic making - its rhythmic/harmonic/conceptual/referential density - as powers which create the conditions for adequate verbal equivalents for the real and possible nature of things : an adequate or accurate model or mirror of the way things might be...

And just how might such things be? Let's say that poetry might be culturally - humanly - foundational if - and this is a big if! - if reality as a whole is ultimately founded and grounded in ecstasy, wonder and joy. In the joy of creation.

I think it was Aristotle who described God, the Prime Mover, as "the thought that thinks itself." It occurred to me today that this might also describe one of the avenues for reflection on the structure of human being, human nature. That is, perhaps we can imagine human nature as essentially reflective - as the consciousness which considers its origin. Today I have the sense that this is one way to describe - to body forth, characterize, depict - our human situation with respect to consciousness per se. The dominion of human thought and action on the planet earth (imperfect, still wrongful & destructive, not yet hopeless) is a miniature analogue, a proportionate ratio, to the everliving Consciousness existing in creative dominion over the universe, reality, as a whole. When one recognizes this Consciousness as infinite love and goodness & joy, one begins to grasp the import and purpose of the message of Jesus, his "good news". When Jesus says he offers the keys to "eternal life" he means exactly that joyful recognition of an undying creative Being which suffuses the entire cosmos. This "eternal life" is the real Holy Grail : the source of spiritual fortitude, hope and joy in the face of every earthly sorrow and pain.

So if in my poetry I attempt to stand with Blake & Hopkins & Dante in sketching out (singing) a version of this most basic ontological concept of reality - of its meaning & purpose - of first & last things - well, this is the rational confidence underlying my little craft. (See, in this regard, contemporary philosopher Alvin Plantinga on the "normative" quality of belief in God. According to Plantinga, faith in God cannot be proven - but it doesn't need to be, in order to be accepted as rational. One can legitimately believe something to be true, without proof, as long as it has not been proven to be false : just as I believe I am going to leave work for home soon, although there's no way to prove that to be true.)

& my faith in the joyful-creative substance of things has consequences for society. If we are all children of God, then we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves. Ask Black Elk about this.

(p.s. just so you know : I don't believe it's Friday yet. I'm pretty sure it's Thursday.)

p.p.s. But I also hold that poetry is good in itself, whether it poses problems or asks questions or provides answers or simply delights & entertains. Poetry has its own proper glow. Yet also I'm saying it's that glow which allows it to carry these other burdens too.

No comments: