Oppen Taking Us to the Encounter
One of the things I came away from Oppen’s Selected Prose, Daybooks, and Papers with was a deeper appreciation of just how difficult a go of it first-wave feminism had, when the attitudes of even the left were so condescending and patronizing. It goes to prove (yet again) that those who are very good thinkers on one thing, in this case, poetry, aren’t necessarily good thinkers on all things—all the more reason to stick to the topic one is best at. Still, it’s a large disappointment. Especially as his “less than enlightened” attitudes about the sensibilities of female poets is not anything I noticed in his poems . . . this is all just in the prose. I wish I’d’ve not come across it. That said, I’m moving on.
Oppen’s quite interested in the topic of truth in his daybooks. And a sense of the political. The authentic.
“Of the transcendental truth some things come—well, floating down in fragments like leaves of a tree—. As, numbers, which seem to act on necessary truth. Do words? Do we lack a transfinite syntax?” (SP 174)
That’s a fun question: Do we lack a transfinite syntax?
That’s the part of Oppen I admire and enjoy. As also in this:
“Art can provide almost anything from wisdom to waltzes. But what art means to do is not to communicate experiences, but to communicate the “realness” of experience.
[. . . ]
And yet this is also the desire to live freely
Inside the rituals—” (SP 173)
These are important questions that we continue to work with. Just today, I read a blog post by Kent Johnson:
In it, he’s thinking about a moment where Ron Silliman wishes (by implication) for the death of Eliot Weinberger. It’s a sketchy moment at the least. And it brings us right back to the “realness” of experience. Such cut-ups from life ARE in many ways, experience itself, but in other ways a simple communication of experience, and therefore both in questionable taste as things to say about another and also questionable desires for the creation of art. But if the art is there to question? Ah, the infinite regressions of poetic content.
Which all gets me to thinking of the Use of the Real in Art. And what is the real anyway?
The real is in a constant state of flux, as it is only “the real” in being encountered. The encounter is what becomes “the real,” not what is encountered.
Let’s call this a fact. It seems easy enough. Simple enough. What is more interesting to me is what this calls us forth to do in our art. How to behave in our art.
In the social sphere, the powerful impose the reality of their encounter on the powerless. But the powerless have the numbers and create a competing reality on the ground. There has always been this competition.
So where does the ethical performance of art stand in this economy? (Is ethics even a [or the] question?) Is art, in bringing us to the encounter, a mediating force? An alternate or further real? Or is it also an imposition?
Each person re-creates the encounter, but like-minded people create like-minded encounters. And politics and the social are full of attempts to sway or force one into a conception of the real.
Art brings us to the encounter. I like that as an artistic goal. Not the thing itself (scientifically impossible) nor the consciousness of the single perceiver (physically impossible), but the moment of the encounter between the perceiver and the perceived. Nice, even if a fairly basic thought.
This is the fundamental difference between art and communication, and why art has a difficult time in the political economy, as to exist there it has to step into the persuasive or force modes of politics in pushing the “real.” It must deal in essential reductions of possibility and Eliot Weinberger, rather than flying through a window as a moment of encountering a genuine Eliot Weinbergerness, becomes simply the expression of Silliman’s essential distaste for the corporeal Eliot Weinberger. Still, there is a value to going after one’s peers. After all, we still read Martial, now and then. Right?
With your giant nose and cock
I bet you can with ease
When you get excited
check the end for cheese.
The difference being that the bile in Martial is toward the error of the one targeted. But that’s a small moment. The larger questions remain.
And this movement to the encounter is also why artists are with the first against the wall, as history keeps telling us, because continually taking us to the source of the encounter, art is a destabilizing force—in general—
Art can only be political and remain art when it presents the encounter of power making the real. Picasso’s Guernica comes to mind. It’s a movement toward exposing, not imposing, and it becomes a part of the real through fitness rather than force. Otherwise it’s just name-calling.