Friday, July 13, 2007

the root me

Several days ago I came across the beginning of an unfinished book on literary criticism and use-of-language-conventions issues I was intending to write but never did, and most likely never will. [ 22JUN03 ] - [ 2007-07-13 ] What remains of it was written in 1984 and, as such, is a historical vignette. - Introduction Shelley was right when he proclaimed that poets are the "unacknowledged legislators of the world"; but he was not right in the direct sense, for it is probable that if poets were allowed to be a society's lawmakers they would (as Auden feared) create a world no one could live in. Laws, however, arise from beliefs; and beliefs--despite insistences to the contrary--are less the offspring of human reason than of human emotion. And since poems define and alter emotions, Shelley's pronouncement will always be true in the indirect sense. Does this mean artists, musicians, and certain others must be excluded from being such legislators? Though Auden may have thought so, no. Yes, laws are commonly expressed through words, and poems are commonly word creations; but poetry exists and persists whenever and wherever one's imagination is stirred, or (as also held) the deepest faculties of one's being are wakened and together moved. However, these thoughts and feelings I wish to express do center on those word creations called poems/ and on the deepening relevant war between semioticians and traditionalists. The semioticians, it seems to me, accept and embellish what T. S. Eliot voiced in "Burnt Norton": Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden, Under the tension, slip, slide, perish, Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, Will not stay still. The traditionalists, it seems to me, accept and embellish what T. S. Eliot also voiced in "Burnt Norton": Words move, music moves Only in time; but that which is only living Can only die. Words, after speech, reach Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern, Can words or music reach The stillness, as a Chinese jar still Moves perpetually in its stillness. The semioticians are existentialists; the traditionalists are essentialists. The semioticians accentuate and investigate the manifestations of imperfection in Primatus sapiens; the traditionalists accentuate and investigate the dreams of perfection in Primatus sapiens. The semioticians are logocentric; the traditionalists are teleocentric. Which group is right? Or is neither right? Or are both right? Is it possible to integrate these ways of seeing? What, if any, is the role of faith? Or, is, perhaps, my maverick thinking disposable? Derridan deconstruction, that most harsh method of probing language, heir extraordinary of the absurdist dramatists, plummeting us toward insanity only to save us with nets of humor, tends to make anyone's thinking disposable, including the thinking of those who deconstruct. But Derrida is serious. Of course he is. But no one can raise a whole philosophy to the altar of inescapable ambivalence without possessing a deep and healing sense of humor. Dostoyevsky, it is worth recalling, considered humor essential for painfully imperfect beings such as we are aware we are. Beings who cannot be perfect cannot do that which is perfect. So, though no thinking is absolute, no thinking is disposable. Yes, even the most flawed thinking has things to teach us. You ought to have noticed how my deciding to write "the absurdist dramatists" instead of "the dramatists of the absurd" creates an ambiguity, a paradox, ripe for deconstructionist picking. Am I (by the negative pole of that paradox) to be labelled an intransigent traditional, an implacable structuralist? When reading a book, it is often valuable-- I at least have found it to be--to determine the philosophical persuasion of that book's author. Unfortunately, or so it may seem, it frequently happens that that persuasion is not revealed clearly and concisely until the paragraphs of summation in the final chapter of a book. Now I, prone as I am to thinking in transit, cannot promise this book will be different; but I do feel it is only proper you be given a fairly clear sketch of where I am coming from. To do this, I must tell you (though you may wonder at it) two saliences of my spirit and a few insights concerning them. My spirit, albeit unconven- tionally, is both largely homoerotic and Roman Catholic. The latter I was born into; the former I accepted by slow degrees. This Faith in me, the fathers say, is a gift from God; and a gift not impossible to lose. I cling to it. This moving sexuality in me, despite how asexual I am in practice, the fathers in my formative years (having no understanding of) in seeing masturbation as a mortal sin/ led me to years of hiding from myself and becoming ever more clouded with guilt; and the fathers now (though some do understand and are less harsh) still mostly disparage. Just as I was as I was moved to be/ and had neither the wisdom nor the courage/ to quickly and easily change from being, I (for all the anger in me and the mis- givings I continue to have about the various life choices I have made) am as I am. And a further aspect of who I am is that since June of 1965 I have been married to a special woman. Essence and existence, belief and struggle, I am telling you these personal truths about me because I feel certain you need to know them in order to rightly understand and evaluate much of what I will be saying in this book. My spirit is also largely poetic and dream-riddled and brooding with questions/ and fear-stymied and integrative and frustrated and oddly narcissistic. Not unlike you perhaps, I am a maverick. Inveterate maker of poems, neophyte mathematizer, former instructor of English who at 43 drifts in the vagaries of motel night audits, more and more I want to create for self-satisfaction rather than for some hoped-for amorphous glory. Nonetheless, creation implies communication; therefore, I do want to communicate, to make a seminal or (at least) a captivating contribution. In concert with this, by way of example and yet further insight into who I am, among my favorite poems are Thomas Hardy's "When Wearily We Shrink Away", Robert Francis's "Hide-and-Seek", Richard Wright's "Between the World and Me", Robinson Jeffer's "Nova", John Keats's "To Autumn", Alfred Tennyson's "Ulysses", and John Clare's "I Am". That literary criticism through the minds of such theory-builders as Harold Bloom has become an intense and highly complex activity A Map of Misreading and The Anxiety of Influence amply prove. By comparison, most of what criticism comes from poets is much simpler and more kinetic. For instance, reading these and those lines by Shakespeare has often been a mild cathartic for me: more precisely, has been an activity that has often proven itself to be an incredibly effective laxative: more generally, reading Shakespeare excites my bowels. Do you think, if she had heard this, piquant Emily would have laughed? What trails the mind hugs and hews! This trek my mind has started on/ will not be easy for it to make. Much of what it will need to learn and understand/ will make it sweat. Already I am back to rereading Jonathan Culler's The Pursuit of Signs, and already I see that instead of writing "implacable structuralist", given the concept I wished to communicate, it would have been better to have written "implacable Neoplatonist". Culler certainly does challenge, though I do not always agree with him. When we are in agreement, I welcome the support I get. His book is a text I am likely to use extensively. There will, of course, be other texts. In Saving the Text (where a different definition of "text" applies), Geoffrey Hartman poetically conjectures: "Literature, I surmise, moves us beyond the fallacious hope that words can heal without also wounding." From another--though related-- perspective, in The Pursuit of Signs Culler states: "Literature forces one to face the problem of indeterminacy of meaning, which is a central if paradoxical property of semiotic systems." Despite my body's sometimes response to Shakespeare's use of this language, I am an idea-attracted poet, a characteristic that has often enough lowered my status as a poet in the opinion of other poets. And how do I know? Osmosis. Or Zarathustra. Yah, God. I am as I am. In May of 1970 as my days of teaching at Eastern Illinois University were about to end/ I, wishing to succinctly define us, wrote in a letter of farewell: "Yet, ambiguous creatures of polarities caught up in change, we are constant mysteries." And so I still conclude we are, belief in a heaven notwithstanding. For all the wonders we are able to imagine and objectify, we are inherently imperfect/ and will therefore always wonder. So long as we can project and reflect, whether in this bodily existence only or also in an existence after our bodies die, growth in knowledge and wisdom and love will be possible for us. Without hope, the ability to project is without value. Without faith, the ability to reflect is without value. But, given the continuing imperfect nature of Primatus sapiens, is our daring to project and reflect beyond our apparent limits also without value? Though we are each with each united, we are each very much alone, so that even the Sartrean conviction that any choice one makes for oneself one also makes for everyone else is tenable, one ultimately must make those choices that seem most proper for oneself/ or else let rot one's own becoming. Enjoined by example to see that those of us who would be masters must constantly be the humblest of servants, and enjoined not to worry, we are also enjoined to use and even increase our talents. Able to dream/ on things perfect, our lives cannot be satisfactory. Alike as we are, our differences (as necessary as they are for our healthful continuance) inexorably keep us apart. Were we not able to transcend, we could not even abide each other. Because we are able to transcend, we each journey his or her peculiar way/ and live in a wondrous and terrible isolation of belief. Sartre was right: "Hell is other people." Yet-- as abundant events daily prove, heaven is other people too. Mostly, however, people are purgatory for one another. The opening sentence of the final paragraph of Mas'ud Zavarzadeh's "Conservative Humanities, Radical Semiotics" (see The American Book Review, vol. 6 / no. 2, p. 12) declares: In spite of all the speculation, rethinking and displacement that have taken place in regard to text(uality), mainstream literary and art critics, teachers of literature, editors and other cultural administrators still conceive, write about and teach texts in terms of medieval theological ideals of harmony, unity and absolute beauty. The challenge here cuts deep; and even if it can not be met, it must be addressed. Perhaps, however, one really ought to blame the Greeks (e.g., Pythagoras) for making beauty a matter of mathematics. In any case, this challenge forces into focus again that most basic question which/ from the answer to, if answer there can ever be, flows the answers to all other questions. That question is: Who is this standing mammal you and I are versions of? Given a brain sufficiently aware of itself to enable you (me) to phrase such a question, and also to recognize the insidiousness of our dis- similarities for all our intense similarities, it is not surprising you (I) sometimes feel like a galaxy or a separate species in him-/herself. Is it ultimately inevitable that the creating and critiquing of "art" be isolate acts, that howevermuch we are able to persuade each other/ each of us, in the end, must continue making and measuring alone? I think it is. Still, whatever one makes that another becomes aware of/ that other will probably judge; and if a particular thing one makes is intended to be a work or art, it is not unlikely one will consider it to be a superior objectification of such ideals as harmony/unity/beauty; and it is not unlikely it will be by those standards judged, even though the judgment that counts may not be a reasoned one. One likes what one likes, whatever the health of one's critical sense. True, some works of art a person needs to learn to like. The Waste Land has been such a work. I know I had to learn to like The Firebird when I was a freshman at Marquette. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - See directory2007 in Catmap. a toy ot! Copyright © 2007 Brian Salchert Rho00008

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