Friday, September 03, 2004

I thought I had lost all the material I'd written in my one semester at Utah when my computer crashed in June of 2001 and my backup file was corrupted, so only archives from before September of 2000 remained (bizarre coincidence, that being my arrival in Salt Lake City) retrievable. But I knew, in some corner of my mind, that I had a poem or two on Dara's computer from then, because of my printer not functioning for a week or so, and so curious I went looking this morning and found I had backed up everything in February of 2001 or so. It may have been in anticipation of our leaving SLC to come back to New Jersey on account of my illness, but I do not remember. It's interesting that what my body knew--that I was sickening from within--and my mind did not is expressed clearly in my poetry. For example (written in September of 2000; Jonah was 2):

Sonnet for if I Die

Jonah, just today you made me dance in
a circle, chanting Dada-Jonah; you
missed ma-maaa but I made you laugh; and then
we were both circling the room; and you’d go
for my wrist to drag me up if I lay
down; I was so tired; but you, little boy,
through strength of will straightened me. The only
way to make you dance was to dance, your eye
said, bright arm waving a maraca. What
I know is now you’re older; I see you grow
this minute into thought, and hope: you sat
with me after my fourth rest, and sensed, knew
it was over; and you laughed, poked my eye,
stood, and ran a circle round my body.

and this:

There is a give-and-take between each self and the world; but it is a discrete, semi-controlled situation--something like a cell in your body, a semi-permeable balloon of pressure. Now I am being caved in--not like a submarine too deep but like a smoke ring rising; I look within and see the same as without, or nearly the same--no refraction or distortion, as a man looking out of his boat at the pond-bottom might, no reflection as he might, only the same; an eye, a smoke eye swirling through the air until only air.

Finally (and these three are culled; I'm so happy to have this material though I don't think much if any is water tight for publication, that I could post much more) this short presentation-essay I wrote for my poetics class. I don't remember having such thoughts. I wish I did (despite the game first paragraph), though having the writing is kind of memory enough:

Where Did the Lyre Go?

I take as my primary task elucidation of, and perhaps even exploration beyond, Susan Stewart’s essay on the history of the lyric. I know I’m supposed to be intellectual, and will be (I can’t be anything but, I’m afraid; effective is another matter); but my approach to the topic will be slightly different than we’ve been used to; hopefully it will be as effective as some of the other investigations this class has undertaken. I will try to keep it short, so as to open more time for direct discussion.

First, a paradigm, an image to stick to as we discuss all sorts of aspects of the lyric, of history. I turn to Physics 101, a class many of you, no doubt, have the pleasure of never having had. This is what is called the Standard Atomic Model: “Imagine a planet, say Earth; that is the electron. Now imagine a sun, say the Sun; that is the nucleus. For many electrons, read many planets.”

This is the way we are told to image the atom. It is as false as it is true. What an atom is is so strange to us we simply cannot hold it in our minds accurately. The differences of the laws of physical interaction (even the term ‘physical’ becomes compromised at such a small scale) between our scale and an atom’s are so great that gravity as a paradigm only partially describes atomic reality. For electrons are as much wave as they are particle—and are truly weird (trust me—the intricacies of how are not important for now).

The point is, the physics 101 student is being asked to perceive an unfamiliar world by overlaying what she/he knows over it. This is a scientist, a supposed seeker of truth. (Hopefully this is starting to sound like Wordsworth in “the Solitary Reaper”) Now, its important to note that while easy to ridicule Wordsworth (and our student) what better method do they have? This paradigm of relationship with the world is, I argue, an essential one, one all of us use constantly. (I suppose this sounds Freudian—so be it.)

Lyric poetry, as a locus where perception meets the imperceivable, where the self meets its own ends, seems a reasonable place to find this paradigm in action. I would argue (and I think Susan Stewart might bemusedly support my train of thought) that this is one of the primary projects of lyric poetry—to map this limnality and to create at least the possibility of new perceptual possibility. It is one way to at least question those limits which give us form, those restrictions which script us, one way to ask of them how true they are, to test them against the world’s aspects for solidity and truth—as compromised an enterprise as it may be—occurs.

For, as counterpoint to solipsistic pessimism: the standard atomic model does allow a certain perception of atomic reality (reality here being judged on predictive accuracy), if compromised. It does give our student a conceptual foothold from which to explore further the atom’s conceptual slipperiness. So, I contend, does Wordsworth’s failure (or compromised success, however you want it) offer a place (for us, apparently, more than him, biographically speaking, though who can know a man?) of departure for us to continue the search.

For as with the solitary reaper, song is the object, harmony. If we could understand even one strangeness beyond our own, we might have our momentary hand on the original lyre—the absence of which, Stewart claims, is the basis of lyric poetry, which is unified primarily, it would seem, by the question we, so over-historicized as to be aware of the generations of failures, ask today, disgruntled with the lyric as we are, “where did the lyre go?” (A question we ask primarily, I might add, in the ‘lyric’ itself, a song meant, to be literal, for the accompaniment of a lyre: a song in this case yearning for the absent music which would complete it.)

Questions to ask each other:

1. In what ways has ‘the lyric’ (as well as the definition of ‘the lyric’) changed through the course of history? Of each of our individual personal histories? What can we self-infer from our own definition? How well do you understand those definitions previous ages have advanced for ‘the lyric’? Do you feel the modern definition of the lyric accurately describes the modern lyric? The Renaissance definition the Renaissance lyric?

2. Why has the lyric itself come about as a form? To what extent is its ‘problematic’ nature (as discussed above—obviously if you don’t buy my conceit/argument this question is meaningless to you) representative or non representative of issues of Consciousness? Of your own consciousness?

3. How well does Vico’s degenerative description of history describe the “postmodern” state? Is advance really degeneration? Is the original lyre human consciousness unencumbered by a historicized vocabulary, purely somatic in utterance and origin?

Something else. Living is just, something else. I don't know what there is to say. To myself.

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