Norman and Eric, fascinating posts raising more issues than one can easily sort. But I'll try a short-hand take:More on this after Shabbos, gentlemen! Meanwhile, can I borrow you to make a minyan?
To rework a famous remark of Einstein's about simplicity, things should be mysterious, perhaps, but not too mysterious. The burden is always on the nature of the mysteriousness, its function.
Oppen's marvelous lines in "Five Poems About Poetry: "How does one hold something/ in the mind which he intends//to grasp and how does the salesman/Hold a bauble he intends//To sell? The question is/When will there not be a hundred//Poets who mistake that gesture//For a style." These lines have always struck me as useful critical guides, though I'll acknowledge that the act of upraising the bauble can itself be an illuminating bit of art.
Benjamin, in the Baudelaire book, critiques l'art pour l'art rather pointedly to this discussion (see my Uncertain Poetries p225): "In l'art pour l'art the poet for the first time faces language the way a buyer faces the commodity on the open market...." Such poets, he maintains, "have nothing to formulate with such urgency that it could determine the coining of their words--the choice is made only among words which have not already been coined by the object itself--that is," [and here WB is inscribing his Marxist spin] "which have not been included in the process of production."
For me, Benjamin's comment seems to strive to suspend, for the moment at least, the misunderstood elite-artist vs. philistine incomprehension struggle, or at least transpose it to another plane, where the writing that WB deems valuable is one which illuminates the struggle or tension between the two by offering glimpses into the mechanisms and catenaries of power, etc. that lie between the struggling parties or whatever.
It strikes me that something like this situation exists in the realm of (Norman, please don't blanch) "the spiritual," that a possible continuum exists (or can exist) between simpler, even naive, forms of spiritual activity and more complex forms, and that the forms ought to be considered as they function not so much to preserve "the mystery" (as though that were some sort of selling point i.e. a bauble) but as they operate to enlarge it with respect to the basic functions within a spiritual practice, to be ethical, to find God, etc.
Perhaps I'm just saying something simple--too simple--that when we look at X, Y or Z's poetry, it is not illegitimate to ask what is this poem trying to do to me and why--i.e. what, to borrow from WB, "determines the coining of its words")--that would at least open the door to its and to my (pardon again, Norman) "spirituality."
Saturday, June 11, 2005
Building a Mystery 3: Mike Heller enters the Fray
A long, thoughtful email from Michael Heller, responding to my recent joust with Josh and Norman: