Monday, December 20, 2004

Henry intervenes in my musings re: Pound, pastoral, Heidegger. I find I want to resist his conflation of pastoral in the classical sense (a city person's poem about shepherds) with its religious sense (as in the pastor of a "flock"). It's too Christian for my taste, and one of the things that interests me about classical pastoral is its pagan or even secular conception of the Golden Age. Christians have insisted on reading Christ into Virgil's Fourth Eclogue, but it seems clear to me that the speaker in that poem is imagining a child whose intervention into history will not require or carry the force of divine revelation (not that I don't also have problems with the military means he envisions the grown child using to create the new Golden Age). It's a very earthly paradise that Virgil imagines the hero-child presiding over. But then I went back to Heidegger and his phrase about the poet being the "shepherd of Being." Now Heidegger's tautological language and generally apolitical position (a position he was driven to after 1945, which is roughly when he began talking like this) tend to drive out notions of the social, so I imagine a solitary shepherd alone in the clearing with "Being." But we only per/re-ceive Being through a particular world, which is always a social and historical creation—the "frame" or consensual hallucination called "reality." Poets "shepherd" Being and the earth (the ground of Being and of all worlds, never perceivable directly) through their language which "attends" (in the old senses of "waiting on" and also "listening to") Being rather than intervening into Being in the name of particular interests. (An aside: When the Bush administration scorns "the reality-based community" they are bragging about their ability to intervene, not least through their meretricious use of language, into Being and so to change the world of our perecptions, though this intervention takes the form of a violation. That's why we liberals find it harder and harder to recognize the world that the American media presents to us; the Bushies have leveled it, black-and-whited it.) The poet's aestheticist position (disinterest) is what enables shepherding. But the relationship between this manner of shepherding and the shepherding of a flock is difficult to discern—hunkering down with Being between the departure and return of the gods is not the same thing as actively leading a group toward such a return. Heidegger's shepherding "in a destitute time" can look a lot like Adorno's "hibernation" in the face of the decay of the bourgeois subject and the rise of mass culture.

Also, the versions of pastoral that I've been contemplating do not involve a narrative of returning to the promised land through the desert; in fact, they do not involve narrative at all. Arcadia is a beautiful image trespassed upon and defined by its bordering wilderness (both hostile nature & the darkness of the unconscious) on one side and civilization (capitalism & the libidinal repression it demands) on the other. It is a wholly synchronous space; the diachronies of narrative and history are alien to it and threaten its precarious existence in the imagination. Arcadia is a dream of a wholly aestheticized and limited socius, in which social recognition (who is the better poet) is the only good competed for and the exploitation of nature, one's fellows, and oneself is unknown. The pastoral mindset is one of Gelassenheit, letting-be, precisely because one can afford it (this is the high privilege of pastoral that will require some further interrogation by me—Ben Friedlander explores this idea vis-a-vis the work of Lisa Robertson here). The curious thing about Pound is that for me his most pastoral moment comes in the Pisan Cantos, where so far from being privileged he is at his lowest point. The pastoral disinterest with which he regards nature there stems from a sense of his privileges having come to an end; he is "a man on whom the sun has gone down." His is the anti-pastoral pastoral of Lear, frolicing in the flowers after his power has been utterly wrest away. Come to think of it, this is the only kind of pastoral I'm really interested in: the pastoral of the powerless and homeless (though one may return to power, hopefully wiser, after one's sojourn in Arcadia, as the Duke does in As You Like It). The other version of pastoral in Pound—his agrarianism, the Monte dei Paschi, etc.—is very much the pastoral of privilege and authority, legislated from his (mostly imaginary) perch behind Mussolini's ear. So it appears I'll have to investigate more closely the "destitution" required for this pastoral, and how it is one comes to renounce one's own interest at least temporarily. As I think I've mentioned elsewhere, the urban pastoral of the NY School and the Abstract Expressionists strikes me as stemming from the desire for a beautiful world in the face of political repression on the micro and macro scale. The flight from representation is the flight from a world one has no power to change by such representation, toward a world of pure perception: color, mass, form. The pathos of their Arcadia comes from their inability to totally exclude either the macro narratives of history or the micro narratives of their own inevitably diachronic lives (et in Arcadia ego), their unhappy love affairs (the pastoral topic par excellence), and the myth of heroic suffering. But poetic shepherding also happens in the work of Frank O'Hara (for example), where fragments of his life and locus are allowed to exist immanently in constellation with each other, as his language finds them.

Gone far astray from Henry's comments, which are astute—and I think his reading of Pound would be a profitable one. But the store's getting too busy for further speculations just now. Next post will probably be about D&D anyways.

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