Thursday, August 28, 2003

I'm again intrigued by Henry's attempt to chart the constellations of contemporary poetry—his now tripartite division appears to be:
School of Quietude = contemplation = intellectuality = Kant's theoretical reason? = "the way things are"

post-Langpo = activity = irascible = Kant's practical reason? = "the way things oughta be"

NY School = pleasure = sensual = Kant's aesthetic judgment? = "things changed upon the blue guitar"
Henry claims that these emphases, most especially the post-Langpos, miss the point when they confuse contemplation with complacency. It's true that the one does not necessarily imply the other, but I do think that another word for contemplation—reflection—shows how reflecting on the way things are in heightened language (the typical stance, I daresay, of most any poem picked out of this month's Poetry) merely reflects the same terrible world back at us, only stilled and made bearable by that stilling. So I don't quite buy it. Of course, no mind, let alone a poet's mind, can function without making use of all three of these basic faculties. Of the three I think I'm the least interested in contemplation, seeing it as the most firmly planted foot of the triangle—what person sitting down with a piece of paper and a pen escapes the contemplative attitude, even if what they produce intends an effect of either revolution or momentary pleasure? (Consider how ultimately unimportant the length of time spent, the labor expenditure, is to the quality of a poem, or rather to the quality of the reactions it causes.) The perhaps irreconcilable gap that I worry over (like a dog with a bone) is that between irascibility and sensuality: revolutionary pleasure. That's why I'm a sucker for the ideas of someone like Marcuse or Fourier; that's why I'm devoting the next two years of my life to thinking about the outmoded genre of pastoral.

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