Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Very articulate post on Silliman's blog today regarding (among other things) the ebb of mysticism in US poetry these past 30 years. If you're reading this blog, and not Silliman's, well, I don't know who you are, but make sure you check it out at least today. Here's the excerpt which specifically informs those questions regarding mysticism & poetry I asked a while back:

"One can point to a number of causes for this process of resecularization (if, in fact, that is what it was) of American poetry, but two in particular strike me as important here. The first is the death of Charles Olson in 1970 at the relatively early age of 60. The degree to which many of the poets who investigated such alternative discourses did so out of a sense of encouragement by Olson, or even out of a desire to in some fashion be Olson, cannot be underestimated. Without his oversized presence, that entire strain of Black Mountain poetics went silent very quickly and very completely.

The other was the rise of theory, starting around 1966, right about the moment when structuralism in the human sciences was giving way to post-structuralism. It’s ironic perhaps that it was at that moment many younger poets began to find theory, and especially to find structuralist theory and its antecedents in Russia such as formalism & futurism. Theory had a relevance that the wisdom traditions did not precisely because some aspects of it came out of, engaged with, and attempted to explain the very profound events that were then taking place in the US, Europe, Mexico and Southeast Asia. Whether one followed the Habermas-Benjamin-Gramsci-Althusser line or the Barthes-Greimas-Jakobson tradition, or the newer contrarians led by Kristeva, Lacan & Derrida, all modes of theory also offered one of the primary phenomena that had been associated previously with modes of mysticism – a difficult, convoluted linguistic tradition in which verification often mattered less than authority and prestige. "

Not that it's only that simple (I don't think it's too much of a stretch to include Benjamin in a mystic framework, for example, correct me if I'm deluded), but this feels basically right on to me, perceptive and lived.

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