Monday, July 05, 2010

Oppen from the Daybooks

Oppen from the Daybooks:

At least two kinds of devotion. The devotion to art, a sort of pragmatism of art which refuses to think anything which will not contribute to poetry. The other is devotion which makes poetry of what the mind, the free and operating mind can know—and is going to know.

[A] friend of Mary’s who is an etcher . . . speaks of depths of focus in a picture. It is among other things, he says, the relation of the artist to the “thing.” The concept can be applied also to writing; a style can be too much on the surface. It can also be too little on the surface, the thing behind it can lack immediacy, can lack conviction.

No artist thinks directly of beauty or seeks directly for the beautiful, but thinks of illumination, of disclosure. He is concerned with emotion, but of emotion which


. . . “beautiful” has nothing to do with the artist’s work.

I think the question asked most frankly would be: is it more important to produce art or to take political action. Of course I cannot pretend to answer such a question. I could point this out, however, that art and political action are in precise opposition in this regard: that it can always be quite easily shown that political action is going to be valuable; it is difficult to ever prove that political action has been valuable. Whereas art is precisely the opposite case; it seems always impossible to prove that it is going to be valuable, and yet it is always quite clear that the art of the past has been of value to humanity. I offer it only as a suggestion that art lacks in political action, not action. One does what he is most moved to do.

When we hear a train—we understand that the train is not identical with the sound waves that reach us. But we understand also that there is a train there.

The search for truth is a passion, not a necessity

We must cease to believe in secret names and unexpected phrases which will burst the world. Neither the rational mind nor the free action of the nerves of the mind will disclose anything beyond their experience.

In “literary” thought, as in mathematics, what you can do in your head you don’t bother to write on paper.

It is not enough to say that we like it or that we do not like it. It is here, we must first talk about it. We are not shoppers—or we are not first of all shoppers; it is not enough to say that we like or we do not like—


At 7/08/2010 5:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that last one is wishful thinking to the contrary of fact. We start with what we like or don't like, and then decide whether we want to invest talk and thought in it.

Sometimes people persuade us to change dislikes into likes, likes into dislikes -- like a slick ad with a good company behind it. (I share his dislike for this being the way it works.)

Nor is that how mathematics works, or mathematics would be a pretty idiosyncratic art. Mathematics is ruthlessly against gaps. I think he meant day-to-day calculation, not mathematics.

He seems dead on about disclosure, and about the alleged competition between art and political action.

At 7/08/2010 7:28 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I agree with you. We start with LIKE and DISLIKE, but I think what Oppen's getting at is that "it's not enough" to stop there. That we must "talk about it." Maybe the "first" here is that before jumping to the LIKE and DISLIKE part we must talk. You're right that it's something of a dream, but I like the idea of it being a goal.

(Since I just said "like" there, perhaps I should have talked about it more first?)


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