Friday, December 17, 2004

Utterly bogged down. "Pastoral" is so flexible an instrument that I cannot settle on a single approach to it, any more than I can decide what the most meaningful way to apply it to Pound is—or more to the point, why. Now I'm yawing back toward my original fascination with the language of rural simplicity that pops up in Heidegger: the notion of the "clearing" in which worldness is disclosed is the most alluring (it connects ineluctably in my mind with Robert Duncan's meadow of first permission) but of course it's also immediately problematized by what Heidegger rejects in his implausible attempt to allly himself with the Black Forest farmer: idle chatter, ambiguity, curiosity—the (rootless, cosmopolitan) signifiers of "inauthenticity." These might be read as the attributes that the "complex man" tries to discard as he tries on the virtues of the "simple man" "in touch with Nature" that Empson describes as the most basic pastoral maneuver. Now, someone like Walter Benjamin or Ernst Bloch would point us toward the redemptive possibilities inherent in the inauthentic, whose attributes resemble those of the commodity society. But is it so easy to discard the longing for authenticity, even if one accepts the notion that Heidegger did not intend "inauthenticity" to be pejorative? Although Heidegger insists on the distinction between Dasein and any particular subject, authenticity seems to be about a wish to be firmly rooted in one's subjectivity, to participate completely in one's "thrownness" into a given class. The notion of the proletariat as universal subject of history can be read as a more acutely historicized version of authenticity, whereby we see that class struggle has produced the authentic subject that the intellectual may ally himself with but can never actually be. Heidegger's notion that rigorous Denken (a thinking of one's own particular Being-toward-death) can result in authentic being for the individual subject has to be rejected as bourgeois illusion by a Marxist. But the expression of desire for authenticity continues to resonate. Pound's weird subject position shows this longing in him: his poems are never addressed toward a mass audience and in fact he insults such audiences every chance he gets. Instead his poetry imagines a readership of select individuals who have achieved something like authenticity through rigorous study—though on close examination what distinguishes the Poundian "expert" is not a learned expertise but the content of his character. So expertise and authenticity are tautologically the same for Pound, and yet the gap of their obvious difference is a source of anxiety for him. It takes his imprisonment at Pisa with people who are differently (if no less problematically) authentic—his fellow prisoners, all poor, black, and illiterate—for him to discover if not his own authenticity at least some of what was inauthentic about his previous Fascist position. Authenticity is achieved, or tended toward, through suffering. The discovery of the world in its worlding—the pastoral moment of discovering a landscape of self-sufficient figures that include oneself—is a kind of ascesis that gets dialectically sublated into pleasure and "just enough" of goods (including social goods, the currency of acknowledgment, Being-with without the "they" [das Man]). Then I could procede by examining how pastoral authenticity gets picked up and dropped again by poets after Pound, whose political commitments might lead them toward more and more acute criticisms of authenticity as a mode (no one makes more fun of the yearning for authenticity than Ashbery, for example) but can only abandon it by transforming monadic authenticity into collectivity—by attempting to realize themselves as part of a class.

Well gee, that sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Why can't I transmute that into an actual argument using poems as examples? Speculation is so much more fun than argument, but argue I must if I want those letters after my name. Sigh.

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