Thursday, January 06, 2005

Snow earlier; freezing rain later. Not enough sleep thanks to Neverwinter Nights—the good news is that my elf monk/arcane archer is kicking major ass down in the Underdark.

Thinking about Guy Davenport as the last modernist sent me to his essay on Walt Whitman and Ronald Johnson (though I was looking for one on Pound) and made me wonder if I ought not to include Whitman (and Emerson and Thoreau, probably) in my dissertation. You can't really talk about American pastoral without thinking of them—but is that what I'm doing? Restricting myself to (North) Americans is really more a matter of convenience than conviction; D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf have been very important to my process of conceptualizing the intersections of pastoral and modernism. For the same reason I should probably leave Whitman out to make an already formidable task easier. And yet it was in Roger Gilbert's Whitman seminar three years ago that I first began thinking about the authenticity-inauthenticity dialectic that I see as crucial to "Song of Myself" (in which he moves betweeen a "postmodern" embracement of "inauthentic" chatter and curiosity and a Romantic assertion of the authentic egotistical sublime) and which I've come to see as the ground for pastoral: Arcadia provides a provisional experience of authenticity but that provisionality is ultimately more important than the authenticity is, and that's what gets foregrounded in the self-consciously ethical experimental poetry of the postwar period. Because "authenticity" has become a no-no, an act of centering that there is supposed to be no use in. One of the uglier pastoral impulses is that which locates the authentic in the Other (the lower class Other, or more often these days, the ethnic Other—consider the saintly character of Flor the maid in Spanglish as played by the heartbreakingly beautiful Paz Vega ). Yet this same impulse can be turned around into a beautiful and ethical act by which you give up your own contingent ground (your higher place in the power structure) in order to include oneself in a more whole humanity—by coming to share imaginatively in the Other's "more authentic" being (which it turns out is both concealed and revealed by their otherness) you discover your own authenticity not in an egotistical sublime but in your shared vulnerability (Being-towards-death), which does not level differences but sublates them. Can't yet figure out the relation of all this to the other aspect of pastoral as a nostalgia for an intensity of subjectivity apparently unachieved in the present—a subjectivity guaranteed not by rigid boundaries but by their absence and the absence of anxiety about this—Freud's "oceanic feeling," I suppose. The uncanny thing about Whitman is the insistent present tense of his enjoyment of boundlessness; his is truly a text of jouissance. There's something rather unpastoral about that, so maybe I'm right to exclude a discussion of him. If I change my mind, there's always the introduction—I've finally come to see the wisdom of writing it last.

No comments:

Popular Posts