Thursday, March 11, 2004

Aaron's ruminations on Patchen and satisfaction have got me thinking. The attraction to a poet who's no longer on the avant radar reminds me of my own attraction to Delmore Schwartz's work—although Patchen's brand of creaturely affirmation is rare there. It's more the unabashed Freudianism linked with the quasi-Shakespearean language and the ethical handwringing that gets me—Delmore Schwartz as the Jewish Berryman.

The question of satisfaction might be rephrased as one of affirmation. One of the reasons I'm obsessed with pastoral is that I see it as being opposed to the (capitalist/patriarchal/war-ridden) world-as-given and thus profoundly negative; but it is also a positive representation of creaturely enjoyment and satisfaction (though not luxury). Patchen's poem is a perfect little urban pastoral that way. But I'm also convinced that the most interesting 20th century pastoral is found in the work of the Objectivists and their heirs--that the poem which prioritizes being over meaning is closer to the fantasy of natural fulfillment that pastoral represents.

I tend to find affirmation/satisfaction more readily in language that conveys lushness rather than that which attempts to represent a situation of satisfaction—such as Stevens' divine but near-meaningless lines, "Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan / Of tan with henna hackles, halt!" But then of course we're pushing past mere satisfaction into the realm of the sublime (the mathematical overflow of semantics, the dynamic power of sound). So "satisfaction" tends more toward the Kantian beautiful when it's in a poem—that which pleases universally without a concept. Within the poem it's more like the pleasing, since the speaker has an interest in his own sexual and gastronomic satisfaction. But as a representation culminating in the line "Our supper is plain but we are very wonderful," it might be beauty.

No, I don't think satisfaction with the world-as-given is "allowed." But plenty of poets provide visions of a functioning microworld (based in the body but not in biopower) that implicitly rejects Ideological State Apparatuses, or the Deleuzian "segmentary," or total administration, or whatever you'd like to call it. The New York School poets were very adept at this; particularly O'Hara and Schuyler but I also see it in Barbara Guest and of course Ted Berrigan. I'm sure this list could be expanded. But again, I think the divide comes between a representation of direct, sensual satisfaction and language which pleases in this way—which is beautiful rather than sublime via indeterminacy or excess. Is "Our supper is plain but we are very wonderful" a beautiful line? I think it might be for me if it weren't the last line, or if through some other means it didn't have to bear the weight of an epiphany, the solution to the riddle of the poem. I prefer my riddles unsolved—better, unriddled.

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