Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Henry responds to yesterday's post with some lucid thoughts, as usual. It's true what Henry says about oppositions, that they are both necessary and reductive. I'm not sure we're reading Altieri's term "lucid" in the same way, however: I read it as the post-Enlightenment tendency toward empiricism and calculative logic, while Henry seems to see it as some quasi-Freudian reality principle. So I wouldn't use that paradigm to address Dante, whereas Henry would; and probably not Shakespeare either, since as a dramatist he has many more resources to call into play than a lyric poet does. A discursive poet like Anne Winters strikes me as trying to do Shakespeare without Shakespeare's tools: her poems may embody a lucid narrative of injustice, but this puts her work in the awkward position of what most people mean by "political poetry," in which the political is seen as inherently unpoetic and vice-versa, so that the poet tends to fall either into stridency or overrefinement.

As for my historical materialism: guilty as charged. I don't subscribe to the vulgar Marxism that's usually packaged with the base-superstructure model. But I do think epochal changes in the mode of production have profound and at least semi-determinable effects on art, while smaller scale changes (like the move into the so-called Information Age) have more subtle effects. And I am inclined to trust the Frankfurt School insight that art is one of the primary areas in which a society wrestles with its internal contradictions.

Haven't read Stephen Prickett, but his account of an unhistorical "shared human experience" that trumps Kant (and Descartes' Cogito, too, it sounds like) sounds rather murky. Certainly one of the things that makes literature literary is its refusal to be contained by the hardening of ideology: if it does so harden we're liable to label it propaganda or doggerel. Good writing seems by definition unable to be pinned down to any single program, and maybe that does have something to do with the "double focus" of metaphor—though is metaphor why, for example, Milton's Satan is such an attractive character in spite of the confirmed Christian ideology of his creator? Metaphor as locus of indeterminacy seems to turn metaphor itself into a site of the unrealizable sublime, which is kind of an interesting idea but at least for the moment stops my thought in its tracks.

Actually, Henry seems to want to turn "lucidity" itself into a kind of sublime, "the shocking and the 'indescribable,'" which makes me think about the Ziarek book I'm currently reading. Ziarek suggests that the avant-garde (there it is again! just when you thought it was safe...) risks engaging our technologized metaphysics (enframing or Gestell in Heidegger's lingo) on its own terms, surrendering the aura, "lyricism," art itself—and gambling post-aesthetically on somehow subverting the lucid from within. That certainly would explain why so much of Language poetry seemed like an exercise in unpleasure and antilyric when it first appeared. Now of course we're "post-avant" and helplessly drawn back to lyric, and as Henry says, "search[ing] for a critical vocabulary for what kind of poetry breaks through our own period stylizations into something new & compelling." Ain't that the truth. Metaphor isn't going anywhere, and probably now neither is metonymy (itself a critical synecdoche for parataxis, non-syllogistic writing, collage, in short the tools of modernism). Will something new emerge to carry us over?

I wish Kasey would post something to push old J.S. Mill down the screen. That portrait is giving me the creeps.

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