Sunday, September 24, 2006

On the Irrational Imagination 1

On the Irrational Imagination

I've been wondeing about this for some time now. Why I like what I like in poetry . . . so today I've begun to write it out. Here's the question, as I see it. The question that leads me to the sort of poetry I find myself most drawn to. And, of course, it starts with Stevens:

". . . it is becoming easier every day to say that we are irrational beings; that all irrationality is not of a piece and that the only reason why it does not yet have a tradition is that its tradition is in progress."

Attend. ATTEND. Directive: Attend.

First, it’s important to remember where we’ve been. This, from William Wordsworth, in “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” (1802):

"The objects of the poet’s thoughts are every where; though the eyes and senses of man are, it is true, his favorite guides, yet he will follow wheresoever he can find an atmosphere of sensation in which to move his wings. Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge—it is as immortal as the heart of man. If the labors of men of science should ever create any material revolution, direct or indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the poet will sleep then no more than at present, but he will be ready to follow the steps of the man of science, not only in those general indirect effects, but he will be at his side, carrying sensation into the midst of the objects of the science itself. The remotest discoveries of the chemist, the botanist, or mineralogist, will be as proper objects of the poet’s art as any upon which it can be employed, if the time should ever come when these things shall be familiar to us, and the relations under which they are contemplated by the followers of these respective sciences shall be manifestly and palpably material to us as enjoying and suffering beings. If the time should ever come when what is now called science, thus familiarized to men, shall be ready to put on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the poet will lend his divine spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will welcome the being thus produced, as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man."

And this, Harold Bloom’s footnote to the above selection:

"Alas, this has not come to pass. Science, so far from being 'familiarized to men,' has developed to the point where it is beyond the comprehension of most men, including poets."

The tension between these two positions, one, that the poet must (will) be aware, and work with, the “material revolution” of science (as forecast by William Wordsworth in his preface to Lyrical Ballads) and two, that the comprehension of this revolution is beyond most people, (as noted by Harold Bloom) reveals the tension at the heart of the progressing tradition of the irrational imagination. Proceeding through the very real day, looking for sign posts, poets of the irrational imagination attempt to put a “form of flesh and blood” on what has, and hasn’t, come to pass, to move, while at the same time, remaining aware that much of what has come to pass is, or is nearly, inexplicable. So what assumptions, what politics, might guide this poetry?


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