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Does Autobiography Make Good Poetry?


"Our Poems, Ourselves: Does Autobiography Make Good Poetry?" a review by Stephen Burt:

Perhaps individuals are real and deserve our attention; perhaps they are not. Perhaps each of us has an individual self, an inner life, partly mysterious, partly explicable, partly traceable to biographical fact, and partly evident in the sometimes songlike, sometimes speech-like works called lyric poems.

But what if such selves are a bourgeois illusion, an outmoded epiphenomenon, produced by ideas in which we should no longer believe? So much of what seems like personal experience arises from systems far larger (the English language, the global economy) or smaller (a cluster of neurons) than persons can be; so much of what seems like artistic expression may also be traced to systems of convention. Perhaps poets—whose art form, more than others, appears tied to the history of individualism—should find ways to deny, or avoid, the hoary pretense that my words, my emotions, arise from causes within me, uniquely mine.

I have just drawn a simplistic and binary picture, one that philosophers, cognitive scientists, and literary thinkers have for decades tried to improve. Those efforts have inspired, and found analogies in, much of the best poetry of the last 30 years. To the questions, linked arm in arm, “Should we believe that we have genuine, unique, consequential, inward selves? Do you have one? Do your poems express it? Do they participate in the tradition called ‘lyric’?” poets from Ashbery to Armantrout, from Jorie Graham to Juan Felipe Herrera, have given the answer, “it’s complicated.” Young poets still pursue intricately ambivalent answers. But poets can also answer “yes” or “no.” Two of this year’s best books by youngish poets illustrate the powers both answers still have.


I am more interested in the second book Burt reviews, The Waste Land and Other Poems by John Beer:

Beer’s forms are not quite new, but there is nothing quite like them: in their integration of parody with serious homage (to Eliot, Spicer, Rilke, Frank O’Hara, Karl Marx), of ambition with self-cancellation, they are the most careful and some of the best of the project-oriented, anti-lyrical work young poets now do. What saves them from monotony, from flat boredom, from repeating the same big jokes? First, the intricacy of their patterns, including acoustic and syntactic form. Second, the real emotions you can, if you go looking, find—exhaustion, disgust, bafflement, uncertainty as to whether there is anything “outside” an art compelled to chase its own tail. Third and most important, the author’s insistence (backed, I think, by Spicer) that these poems might after all include not only systems of literature, not only parody or pastiche, but systems of dictation, messages after all from the Orphic Outside: “Orpheus awoke in the poem of disguises, the poem once called ‘The Waste Land.’ Friends, listen up.”

To reject personal lyric, sincere individuals, is not to embrace a world of nothing but parodies. It is instead—in Beer’s implicit cosmology—to make oneself ready for the true, unpredictable, archaic sources of art, if one can ever be ready, if they are real: “I was not, readers, Orpheus, and I did not descend into the depths, and I have only these words to defend me, and the shadows, the shadows howl for my blood.” Whoever wrote that—call him “John Beer”—wasn’t kidding, and neither am I.


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Here's a link to some of Beer's poems, including "The Waste Land":

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Last edited by Katlin, Apr/16/2011, 7:06 am
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Re: Our Poems, Ourselves: Does Autobiography Make Good Poetry?


loved "mary, color scientist"!!

going to check out more of his poetry
arka
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Kat, you are always bringing to the table these tasty morsels. Two thoughts come to mind.

I've told the story before of how an older brother, 15 years my senior and something of a father figure, did me serious artistic harm. This was back in my young man days. He was a Marxist then and a deadly serious revolutionary about it all, not afraid to take to the streets in the spirit of fomenting revolution. I don't think I was 21 when one day he said my writing was too personal for him. Keeping to the party line I guess his aesthetic sense could be wrapped up in the Marxist aesthetic of social realism. And I guess to him my writing could have been condemned as self-indulgently bourgeois. This seriously set my development back a good ten years, left me uncertain, constantly quetioning myself, at odds with myself, unable to develope a lyrical voice. In effect I had been told that the individual in me didn't matter, of no consequence, I suppose, to the forces of that old, so-called stuff involving the dialectic of historical materialism. Put in Freudian terms, there was my super-ego, receptive to the crit, ready and prepared to convince me I was a nobody, that neither my experience(s) or lyrical voice could matter.

In that same cusp of time I read a book of aphorisms by the then popular novelist, John Fowles, called the Aristos, a Greek word, root of the word aristocrat, and meaning: the best man for the circumstance. (I've told this story too but it speaks to what Kat has brought us.) Following in the thinking of Freud, Fowles pointed to Freud's compartimentaliztion of the psyche into the super-ego, the ego, and the id. The id involving all the dark, uncontrollable stuff of unconscious behavior from sexual desire, the libido, to etc. But Fowles posited that the psyche has a fourth element, a fourth compartment so to speak. He coined a word for it: the nemo, meaning nobody. And not just nobody, but a state of mind he called nobodiness. Fowles's idea was that the psychic function, or element, of the nemo is a later psychic development of personality, that it is brought about by civilization viewed as a collective voice, and that its purpose is to dissuade the individual from wanting individuality. Individuality being viewed as a threat to the collective.

Kat I don't know if this exactly addresses what you bring us. But every time the topic is raised involving the autobiographical in poetry, and, as you know, the topic comes around almost cyclically, almost perennially, this is what comes to mind. I think of a father figure's admonition, what came seriously close to killing the lyrical voice in me. And I think of Fowles's posited nemo, a self-persuaded state of nobodiness. I also think of the Romantics, Shelley and company, whose central most notion was this: the individual's right to personal happiness in spite of class, state, or any other collective. It is easy to forget just how huge and revolutionary the notion was in a strictly class stratified society of the early 19th C.

There is a great story concerning two 20th C. Russian (Soviet era) poets. Anna Akhmatova and Vladimir Mayakovsky. The first a bad Soviet increasingly hounded by the Stalinist regime. She was judged to, yes, be self-indulgently bourgeois. The second a good Soviet who, at least early on, believed with his whole body in the Revolution. Both were great poets, certainly two of the greatest Russian poets of the 20th C. Publically Mayakovsky condemned Akhmatova. Hers was certainly a personal, lyrical voice. Something I've come to think of as the personal universal. Mayakovsky's poetry tended to the narrative, even if he could slip into the I/Thou address. Here is the kicker. Story has it that, after condemning Akhmatova publically, Mayakovsky would then go home, read her in private, and weep.

That is my first response to your thread. To me the question is not does autobiography make for good poetry. Rather, the real question is: to what extent does the self-story wrap me up in what I'll again call the personal universal? That is the real litmus test.

Now for a second response which, to some, might contradict the first, but does not to me.

From a Yeats poem called "Ego Dominus Tuus:"

Ille: By the help of an image
I call to my own opposite, summon all
That I have handled least, least looked upon.

Hic: And I would find myself and not an image.

Ille: That is our modern hope, and by its light
We have lit upon the gentle, sensitive mind
And lost the old nonchalance of the hand;
Whether we have chosen chisel, pen, or brush,
We are but critics, or but half create,
Timid, tangled, empty and abashed,
Lacking the countenance of our friends.

I think of Yeats making the poem. It pretty much amounts to an inner dialogue between self and self. It came mid-career, thirty years after his first collection. Yeats's early, Symbolist grafted stuff, does, in fact, light "on the gentle, sensitive mind." His later stuff far less self-conscious, far more committed to the lyrical and direct I/Thou address. It's like he figured something out. It's like he said to himself: 'God damn it, man, you've been worrying gnats off a dead horse, what with your concerns with self, motive, and intention. Forget about that stuff. Go for the image and you'll find experience. Don the mask (a favorite word of his) and you'll find everything you are not, which is the other'. The lines in the poem that come up for me every time I read yet another essay questioning poetry's motive and intention is: "We are but critics, or but half create", and "And lost the old nonchalance of the hand."

It's kind of like what Johny Ringo says to Doc Holliday in the movie, "Tombstone": "All right lunger. Let's do it."

One last note. A rabbit chase I can't resist. Mayakovsky died young, at his own hands. It might have been a pistol to his head. Akhmatova lived to be an old woman personally feared by Stalin who became obsessed with the possibility she might be a great Russian poet. Without question in her lyrical voice she became the soul of Russia for many of the time. But Mayakovsky wrote a poem found in his papers after his death. The middle section was found repeated in his suicide note. It is called "Past One O'Clock".

"Past one o’clock. You must have gone to bed.
The Milky Way streams silver through the night.
I’m in no hurry; with lightning telegrams
I have no cause to wake or trouble you.
And, as they say, the incident is closed.
Love’s boat has smashed against the daily grind.
Now you and I are quits. Why bother then
To balance mutual sorrows, pains, and hurts.
Behold what quiet settles on the world.
Night wraps the sky in tribute from the stars.
In hours like these, one rises to address
The ages, history, and all creation."

Tere
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Re: Our Poems, Ourselves: Does Autobiography Make Good Poetry?


Hi Arka,

Here are a couple of more links to Beer's poems:

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If you find any others, please pass them on!

I got a chuckle out of this:

It’s getting kind of late. I stand next to my love,
All right, I’m standing next to a skeleton,
It appears to be a raccoon skeleton, given the sharp
Teeth, given the sign underneath that says, “Raccoon.”


Made me wonder what Eliot would have written if he had been born in 1969 and had had a sense of humor. (I'm not trying to diss Eliot here; it's just where my thoughts went.)

 

Last edited by Katlin, Feb/21/2011, 12:36 pm
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Hi Tere,

I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed and appreciated your post. Much food for thought there, which I a mulling over and will return to as thinking allows.

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Thanks for saying something, Kat. I was a little considered my post could have put you off. Looking forward to reading what you are thinking.

Tere
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Tere,

Finally coming back to your post. I'm glad you retold the story about your brother and the one about discovering the term nemo. Although I had heard you mention both before, I have a better understanding of each this time around.

He coined a word for it: the nemo, meaning nobody. And not just nobody, but a state of mind he called nobodiness. Fowles's idea was that the psychic function, or element, of the nemo is a later psychic development of personality, that it is brought about by civilization viewed as a collective voice, and that its purpose is to dissuade the individual from wanting individuality. Individuality being viewed as a threat to the collective.

Interesting to me that the within the term nobodiness is no-body-ness. When Burt writes, "But what if such selves are a bourgeois illusion, an outmoded epiphenomenon, produced by ideas in which we should no longer believe?" I figrue that's the nemo in him talking. Not that I disagree with him when he says, "So much of what seems like personal experience arises from systems far larger (the English language, the global economy) or smaller (a cluster of neurons) than persons can be; so much of what seems like artistic expression may also be traced to systems of convention."

I like your use of the term personal universal and think it helps resolve the "simplistic and binary picture" Burt admittedly and intentional drew to make his point. I also think it helps explain why I puzzled over this statement Burt makes:

"You can accuse Beer of showy inconsistency: somebody wrote the poems published under his name. But he does not imply that there are no poets, no poems; rather, he implies that if we expect to learn deep truths about the inner life of a unique person by reading a modern poem, we have decided to fool ourselves."

I don't read or write poetry expecting "to learn deep truths about the inner life of a unique person." I turn to it for the personal univeral that can often be found there. Burt goes on to write:

Beer’s poems (intent and deadpan as they are) show how we might think, we might write, if we cease to be fooled. Indeed, they come from the third or fourth generation of American poets who try to write as if they were not fooled: his jokes and puzzles say that we have not progressed much since the deep ends of Eliot’s modernism, that we have yet to get past Eliot’s own bitter critique of our illusions, dated as that critique now seems. “The part / about mythology is finally over. / What replaced it nobody could say,” Beer writes, in “The Life of Lee Harvey Eliot,” a poem that also promises “a series of abstract paintings / called ‘Abstract Series.’”

After reading the lastest installment of your novel this morning, I got to thinking what replaced mythology, to some extent, might be rock n roll. The myths of old may no longer engage today's imaginations, but I think we are deluding ourselves if we decide that archetypes, in the Jungian sense, for example, are "an outmoded epiphenomenon." Just because people are in denial of their own unconscious, to say nothing of the collective unconscious, doesn't mean those thing cease to exist. Not that Burt, or Beers it appears, is ultimately saying that:

To reject personal lyric, sincere individuals, is not to embrace a world of nothing but parodies. It is instead—in Beer’s implicit cosmology—to make oneself ready for the true, unpredictable, archaic sources of art, if one can ever be ready, if they are real: “I was not, readers, Orpheus, and I did not descend into the depths, and I have only these words to defend me, and the shadows, the shadows howl for my blood.” Whoever wrote that—call him “John Beer”—wasn’t kidding, and neither am I.

I never found the personal lyric to be a safety belt, nor mythology to be a fail-safe GPS system, for anyone confronting, or even attempting to avoid, "the true, unpredicatble, archaic sources of art."

  

  



Last edited by Katlin, Feb/24/2011, 12:29 pm
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Re: Our Poems, Ourselves: Does Autobiography Make Good Poetry?


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The Purpose of Myth

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"A myth is a strange attractor, a morphogenetic field created by archetypes, one that draws us into a sympathetic relationship with them."

Okay, that's enough to convince me to keep reading. Thanks for the link, Libra.

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Re: Our Poems, Ourselves: Does Autobiography Make Good Poetry?


Yesterday while looking for some examples of poems by Simon Jarvis, whose article on rhyme in poetry Arka linked to in another thread, I stumbled on: “ the first chapter of an unfolding critical novella on current British poetry, to be entitled Corroded by Symbolysme: An Anti-Review of Twelve British Poets, Which Is Also to Be a True Account of Dark and Mysterious Events Surrounding a Famous Poem Supposedly Written by Frank O’Hara by Kent Johnson. Chapter 1 is Johnson’s “review” of Andrew Duncan’s Savage Survivals: amid modern suavity. What follows are excerpts of Johnson’s email exchange with Duncan in the novella:

Duncan: As I told you that fine afternoon at The Eagle, the book represents a break with writing about autobiography and writing about politics—mainstays of my previous work. So it’s a leap in the dark. A leap into myth and subjectivity. The line of writing about personal myth is despised by the avant-garde & associated not only with female poets but also with being subjective and unsophisticated.

Johnson in reply: Yes, thanks, this helps me to recall that marvelous evening we spent at The Eagle. I just have to ask one more question: You say:
“Subjectivity and fantasy rule... The details of all the poems are improvised to see if they would come out looking like myths. I wasn’t interested in just retelling existing myths.”

However, scholars of myth, from Fraser, to Jung, to Cassirer, to Langdon, to Frye, etc, would say that the details of myths are always improvised—in certain senses *necessarily* improvised—over deep structural tensions that have homology across cultures and times. It is this deeper content that is the essence, of course. So even with this improvising, as you call it, do you hope, in this “turn toward myth” you’ve yourself taken, to also partake, however humbly, of underlying, collective energies of retelling—do you hope to bring forth something hidden but surviving of the “savage”? And, if so, what possibilities might this poetic path hold for our experimental poetry?


To which Duncan replies: The “deep structural homologies” may be no more than the shape of the lens through which the occidental scholar is peering. What I am writing is not primitive but primary—a suspension of rationality and the personality in an area protected by a cultural or calendrical barrier. Myth if collective must be preset; there are stories which everyone tells; there is a lurch when one moves into free improvisation which makes me almost sick with excitement but which also threatens to leave me in a space which is “personal” in the sense that no-one else can follow me there. The thrill of improvising is the possibility which agitates me. (I hope it agitates others, that others might join along, not in my manner, of course, but alongside, as it were.)

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I like the distinction between primitive and primary, but preset is not a term I would use. All of this reminded me of an article I had read earlier in the day before chance took me to Johnson’s work: “Seeing Things: The Daimonic Nature of Reality” by Patrick Harpur. Harpur writes:

And this is what Jung claimed for the archetypes: “All we know is that we seem unable to imagine without them…. If we invent them, then we invent them according to the patterns they lay down.”

The archetypes do not only appear as single images; they also appear as those structures and patterns which form the recurring motifs of every mythology, such as the death and rebirth of the hero, the quest for hidden treasure, the journey to the Underworld, and the abduction of a mortal by a god. When he wanted to describe the dynamics of the psyche, Freud drew instinctively on myths for he understood that they are the true stories of the soul. However, while he confined himself to very few, such as the myth of Oedipus and of Electra, Jung went further and realized that all the myths are alive in the collective unconscious. What he did not perhaps realize so clearly is that no interpretation of myth really throws light on that myth. For instance, we may interpret the hero’s slaying of the dragon as the ego’s struggle to break free from the overpowering unconscious, but this tells us nothing new – it is merely a rather dreary variant of the original, more colorful archetypal story. Like the daimons who inhabit them, myths shape-shift to provide new versions of themselves for every generation.


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I connect, potentially, Duncan’s “lurch when one moves into free improvisation” to what Burt called “the true, unpredictable, archaic sources of art” and to “the shadows” Beer says “howl for my blood.” I also connect it to Campbell telling Moyers the story about the Iroquois girl’s refusal of suitors: “As soon as you have refused the suitors, you have elevated yourself out of the local field and put yourself in the field of higher power, higher danger. The question is, are you going to be able to handle it? . . . With the refusal of suitors, of the passing over a boundary, the adventure begins. You get into a field that’s unprotected, novel. You can’t have creativity unless you leave behind the bounded, the fixed, all the rules.” (The Power of Myth 155-56)

What say all of you? Tere and Libra, you both work in the realm of myth, so I’d love to hear your take on this.


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Some notes in progress:

In a blog post after attending the "Robert Duncan Symposium: The Truth and Life of Myth," Joshua Corey writes about his “profound ambivalence” regarding “Duncan as bearer of the part of the Modernist tradition that engages most profoundly with myth and hermetic knowledge, as opposed to the Modernism of cultural critique and collage which I find a far more congenial site of engagement.” Corey continues:

“Ron Silliman, an anti-Duncan if ever there was one (really, the entire Language tradition is against Duncan), once wrote perceptively if polemically about how the hermetic knowledge that Duncan and his circle used as an armature for poetry had been supplanted by Silliman's generation by Marxism and post-structuralism.”

Corey acknowledges his “discomfort and fascination with the place of myth in poetry” and writes:

For the poet, myth is a form of capital, and too often the Modernist engagement with myth has looked to me like a form of primitive accumulation, given that form of capital acquisition's reliance on enclosure. That is, the desire to create a hermetic circle, open only to initiates, has the effect, intentionally or not, of excluding those with no knowledge (literally, no investment) in the fate of Osiris or who Aleister Crowley was or ritual sacrifice in ancient Sumeria or whatever. It all seems impossibly remote from how life is actually lived. And, if you're at all invested in a materialist worldview, it seems less like a quest for reality than an escape from it, a shying away from the forces of social production that actually make the world.

But of course myth is not the only form of poetic capital, and the discourses of post-structuralism, as Ron observed, make a dandy sphere of hermetic knowledge penetrable only by initiates; as my colleague Bob Archambeau. . . remarked this afternoon, the major difference is that abstractions like difference assume the role that myth reserves for the gods. And there are generational differences; in his conversation with Mackey, Joseph Donahue remarked that in Michael Palmer's work there's a layer of irony calling attention to the gap between the world of myth and the disclosure of reality that myth promises, whereas Duncan's writing is an irony-free zone. (This also explains my preference, when the chips are down, for Jack Spicer, and my sense that ours is a fundamentally Spicerian moment.)

Post-structuralism is the received mythic structure of poets younger than Palmer, many of whom are disturbingly uncritical about it; at least, that's how I'd describe the post-Language crowd.. Frank O'Hara, on the other hand, freely mythologized his own life, offering a charismatic model for poetry's relation to myth that has similarly become encased in irony for the nth-generation of New York School practitioners (a practice that goes hand in hand with the ironic mythification of pop culture—though you can't ironize capital, and references to Hanna-Barbera cartoons from the 1980s can be just as effective and exlusionary in establishing one's cultural bona fides as Pound's use of Greek and Chinese characters).


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Circling back: In the second chapter of Corroded by Symbolysme: An Anti-Review of Twelve British Poets, Which Is Also to Be a True Account of Dark and Mysterious Events Surrounding a Famous Poem Supposedly Written by Frank O’Hara, Kent Johnson reviews J.H. Prynne’s To Pollen. In an email to Prynne, Johnson writes:

You should talk to your wayward former student Andrew Duncan now about his turn to wild myth creation, Mr. Prynne. The collapse of the theology of Marxism-Leninism (particularly since the First Gulf War) has left the old left experimental wing with nothing but grammar, syntax, and a flat page to play with and upon. The poems either try to sound kind of abstract lyrical, or they try to sound like they are short-wave radio operators channelling different frequencies, squawks and squeals and all. Maybe the time has come to leave, as Mr. Duncan—at least in proto—has, the obvious stage behind and build about into imagined dimensions of different kinds. Paratext, paradoxically, is boundless, like space. Who knows where it might lead?
 
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And doubling back again to Harpur:

I want to emphasize the chief attributes of daimons because these are also crucial attributes, often neglected, of the ground of reality itself. Firstly, they are ambiguous, even contradictory, for instance both material and immaterial (anthropologists who tend to call them “spirits” are misleading). They are both benevolent and malign, always tricky – at best mischievous, at worst life-threatening. Secondly, they are elusive, fast-moving, appearing and disappearing in the twinkling of an eye. Thirdly, they are shape-shifters, like Proteus nearly impossible to pin down. Whenever, therefore, we think we have a fix on reality, we will find when we look again that the image, concept, or formulation we proudly hold up is an empty mask whose living daimon has already slipped away. The nature of daimons tells us besides that reality is better represented by concrete, personified images than abstract and impersonal concepts. If we want to catch them, we cannot use plodding logic or precise rationality; we have to use our own quickest, most highly colored, shape-shifting faculty: imagination. Fourthly, daimons are always marginal creatures who favor liminal zones or times for their appearances – bridges, crossroads, seashores, no less than the turning of the day at midnight or of the old year at Halloween. They are always, too, marginalized by “official” culture, whether of science or of the Churches.

And:

The very strength of the modern Western ego is also its greatest shortcoming, namely its literalism. . . . Reality is far from being intrinsically literal. It is literalized by the peculiar perspective of our modern consciousness. It is peculiar because it is the only perspective which insists that it is not a perspective at all but a true vision of the actual world. It has in fact lost perspective because “perspective” means “seeing through,” and it fails to see through itself. So forceful is the literalism of our world-view that it is almost impossible for us to grasp that it is exactly that – a view – and not the world. The world we inhabit, then, is seen through a particular perspective, framed by imagination – in short, by a myth. There is always another world according to other perspectives, other myths. The collective unconscious, imagination, and the Soul of the World are all models of this Otherworld, all analogous to each other, all metaphors for a daimonic reality – which is itself another metaphor. The ultimate reality to which these models refer is unknown. It is a mystery.



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Well you two have certainly opened a five gallon can of worms, writhing and never once contained or localized in a definition, never once successfully Riker mounted on a board with pins. I need to think on this. And I will need time to think on this. As some have guessed I've been trading in the substratum of myth, deliberately, since about '82, just shy of 30 years ago. Before then I was trading in the same not knowing it was what I was doing.

I'll start here. The term, archetype, was coined by Jung. Possibly he coined the term to make himself look more original than he was. He got the notion from a mid-19th C jurisprudence scholar who was an expert in Roman law by the name of J.J. Bachofen. Bachofen's study of ancient Roman law led him to realize there was a Mother-Right substrate to it all. This led him to make a leap. And he came up with the notion of elemental ideas. By which he meant there are ideas, in the human brain, not peculiar to locale or environment, but elemental to the species world wide. That is what he said and that is what Jung drew on. The clarification is worth making. Do I think Bachofen was right? Yes. Do I think Jung creatively drew on the notion? Yes again. I also think it important to get a handle on what this term of archetype means. Itself just another idea, just another notion.

Tere
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Tere,

Yes, I think I get what you are saying, bearing in mind that what I don't know fills libraries, virtual and real. Harpur himself says this:

It is not to our credit, I think, that we now call Tir-na-nOg, the unconscious, and the daimons, such things as “archetypes” – although C.G. Jung recognized that archetypes “manifest themselves as daimones, as personal agencies, and are not ‘figments of the imagination’ as rationalism would have us believe.”

Think away, please, and take your time.
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Re: Our Poems, Ourselves: Does Autobiography Make Good Poetry?


“Ron Silliman, an anti-Duncan if ever there was one (really, the entire Language tradition is against Duncan), once wrote perceptively if polemically about how the hermetic knowledge that Duncan and his circle used as an armature for poetry had been supplanted by Silliman's generation by Marxism and post-structuralism.”

Although not searching for them, I came upon some on-topic Silliman quotes:

...the death of [Charles] Olson really signaled the end of an ardent interest by many poets in all matters of the occult [and the "mystical" in general], including say historical investigations of earlier religious models. As it was, it had been pretty much the purview of just one group within the New American poets, those most often called Black Mountain or Projectivist. So Olson dies [1970] and [Robert] Duncan has just begun his announced 15-year hiatus from publishing... What filled this space was theory, French theory & western-Marxist theory. It very much takes over that range of theoretical discussion among younger poets... There is one real exception to this history worth noting -- Sulfur, Clayton Eshleman's journal, and the interest he & Jerry Rothenberg have had, which is both different from Olson & from one another.

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and:

Olson was just one key part in a broader field of poetics that was deeply spiritual, but not at all within the orthodox Judeo-Christian frame.

This disappears in the 1970s almost completely. . . . I’ve also written that I that what took the place of mysticism and the wisdom traditions in American poetry in the 1970s was theory, specifically continental theory of the structural & especially post-structural kind.

But Olson’s death & Duncan’s hiatus are, I think, the hinge events in that transition – as they were the two people who really could have made that larger dimension cohere. The one other poet of like mind & similar stature, Gary Snyder, was far too much of an isolato to have the same effect. Allen Ginsberg was too caught up in too many other things to focus on just this one.


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The first poet I thought of who has retained an interest in "the mystical in general," and as it relates to Corbin, in Sufism in particular, is Robert Bly. Bly is the one who encouraged Coleman Barks to translate Rumi, and now there are a number of people translating Sufi poets. There may be other poets working within and across other mystical traditions, but these are a few I am familiar with. Bly has also continued to work with myth, both in Iron John and in his Great Mother conferences and men's movement work.
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Re: Our Poems, Ourselves: Does Autobiography Make Good Poetry?


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Hi Libra,

I never heard of Bey. An anarchist Sufi is new to me. Do you like his work?
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Funny. Maybe I should have posted my thoughts involving Campbell and Troubadour poetry here instead of in Gaia's Gown. I note a certain interstice between the two threads. The autobiographical, the insistence on individuality, the spiritual, and gnosis. When you think on it what can possibly be more personal than what involves the mystical experience?

Now for a little pique. More and more I find I involuntarily bristle when reading another Silliman prouncement. The older I get the more I distrust the overarching statement and sweeping generalization especially as pertains to so-called historical forces, historical movements, historical trends, and more especially when such prouncements involve poetry. But for the extent to which poetry is influenced by local color, environment, current bias about what makes for good poetry, I see nothing historical about or in poetry. Except for the fact it would only be another categorization I can almost go so far as to say for all time poetry is ahistorical. Even sui generis. But I'll resist the sweet temptation except for this: there are no historical forces or trends that can explain a Goethe, a Dickinson, or a Whitman. If anything they themselves create trends, not the other way around, which in my view is a true thing that can be said about genuis. And Silliman puts a blip on my radar for another reason: Me thinks the poet doth protest too much. It is like I can almost smell the rot of self-justification.

Kat, please don't misunderstand. I know your poetry and thinking well enough to know where you stand, at least on some things. I am always grateful for what you bring to the table. Often you force me to think and clarify what I think. Just venting, my friend.

But wait! Now I get it! Why Silliman bugs me so. The Nemo. It is the state of nobodiness, or, as you put it, no-body-ness, his pronouncements about how poetry is subject to historical trends and forces invokes. If that is what you have in mind all I can say is that I can be so bloody slow sometimes. What a deliciously wicked thought, ne's pas? Silliman: the poet of the Nemo in us all.

Tere
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Yeah, I had the same thought about the connection between those two threads. And, yeah, I thought Silliman's comments were self-serving. Although I said I thought one of Burt's comments came from the Nemo in him, I hadn't made the connection you do to Silliman and the Nemo in us all. You've peaked my interest in that term. Gotta do some research to learn more about what Fowles meant by it.

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I came across an article today, "Buddhism and the Brain" by David Weisman that made me think of this thread:

Despite my doubts, neurology and neuroscience do not appear to profoundly contradict Buddhist thought. Neuroscience tells us the thing we take as our unified mind is an illusion, that our mind is not unified and can barely be said to “exist” at all. Our feeling of unity and control is a post-hoc confabulation and is easily fractured into separate parts. As revealed by scientific inquiry, what we call a mind (or a self, or a soul) is actually something that changes so much and is so uncertain that our pre-scientific language struggles to find meaning.

Buddhists say pretty much the same thing. They believe in an impermanent and illusory self made of shifting parts. They’ve even come up with language to address the problem between perception and belief. Their word for self is anatta, which is usually translated as ‘non self.’ One might try to refer to the self, but the word cleverly reminds one’s self that there is no such thing.

When considering a Buddhist contemplating his soul, one is immediately struck by a disconnect between religious teaching and perception. While meditating in the temple, the self is an illusion. But when the Buddhist goes shopping he feels like we all do: unified, in control, and unchanged from moment to moment. The way things feel becomes suspect.

. . .

Anatta is not a unified, unchanging self. It is more like a concert, constantly changing emotions, perceptions, and thoughts. Our minds are fragmented and impermanent.

Both Buddhism and neuroscience converge on a similar point of view: The way it feels isn’t how it is. There is no permanent, constant soul in the background. Even our language about ourselves is to be distrusted (requiring the tortured negation of anatta). In the broadest strokes then, neuroscience and Buddhism agree.


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Weisman admits he is not a Buddhist, and neither am I, so I cannot attest to his conclusions about the Buddhism, especially as they apply to "the immaterial thing that survives the brain's death and is reincarnated":

I don’t mean to dismiss or gloss over the areas where Buddhism and neuroscience diverge. Some Buddhist dogmas deviate from what we know about the brain. Buddhism posits an immaterial thing that survives the brain’s death and is reincarnated. After a person’s death, the consciousness reincarnates. If you buy into the idea of a constantly changing immaterial soul, this isn’t as tricky and insane as it seems to the non-indoctrinated. During life, consciousness changes as mental states replace one another, so each moment can be considered a reincarnation from the moment before.

. . .

The problem is that there’s no evidence for an immaterial thing that gets reincarnated after death. In fact, there’s even evidence against it. Reincarnation would require an entity (even the vague, impermanent one called anatta) to exist independently of brain function. But brain function has been so closely tied to every mental function (every bit of consciousness, perception, emotion, everything self and non-self about you) that there appears to be no remainder. Reincarnation is not a trivial part of most forms of Buddhism. For example, the Dalai Lama’s followers chose him because they believe him to be the living reincarnation of a long line of respected teachers.

. . .

Yet science has shown us that we reside on the fringes of our galaxy, which itself doesn’t seem to hold a particularly precious location in the universe. Our species came from common ape-like ancestors, many of which in all likelihood possessed brains capable of experiencing and manifesting some of our most precious “human” sentiments and traits. Our own brains produce the thing we call a mind, which is not a soul. Human exceptionalism increasingly seems a vain fantasy. In its modest rejection of that vanity, Buddhism exhibits less error and less original sin, this one of pride.


I am reminded of a Hapur quote I posted earlier:

Reality is far from being intrinsically literal. It is literalized by the peculiar perspective of our modern consciousness. It is peculiar because it is the only perspective which insists that it is not a perspective at all but a true vision of the actual world. It has in fact lost perspective because “perspective” means “seeing through,” and it fails to see through itself. So forceful is the literalism of our world-view that it is almost impossible for us to grasp that it is exactly that – a view – and not the world. The world we inhabit, then, is seen through a particular perspective, framed by imagination – in short, by a myth. There is always another world according to other perspectives, other myths. The collective unconscious, imagination, and the Soul of the World are all models of this Otherworld, all analogous to each other, all metaphors for a daimonic reality – which is itself another metaphor. The ultimate reality to which these models refer is unknown. It is a mystery.

Buddhism offers one perspective, one myth, but so according to Hapur does science:

If the realm of subatomic particles is a literalized image of the immanent Otherworld, the transcendent Otherworld is literalized by our picture of the cosmos, whose fantastic denizens – Black Holes, Quasars, Dark Matter – resemble the ogres of fairy tales or else the elements of some ancient Gnostic myth. Within a black hole, for instance, there lurks a singularity about which nothing can be known because all the laws of physics break down at this point. Nor can it ever be observed directly because nothing can escape from it, not even light. Since time slows to nothing at the speed of light, anything crossing the “event horizon” of a black hole will (from the viewpoint of an observer outside) take an infinite amount of time to reach the center. And so on. It is easy to see that whatever else a black hole is, it is a knot of mythic resonances, an Otherworld where as usual everything is reversed and where time is distorted. Like an archetype or god, its influence is all the more powerful for being invisible and unknowable. As a daimon in a soulless universe, a black hole can only manifest itself as a devouring Charybdis that whirls everything in its vicinity into oblivion. It is incomparably smaller than a star but its power is commensurately greater. It shape-shifts – black holes as tiny as atomic nuclei have been proposed. It is a materialistic image of the Unknown God who dwells in the unfathomable abyss and a negative image of the One beloved of the Neoplatonists.

. . .

The rational ego cannot finally cut itself off from soul, but its denial of soul’s myriad images leaves an empty void which in turn is mirrored in the universe at large.

The dark abyss of space punctuated by tiny lights, like the Gnostic’s soul-sparks, is the image of the modern soul – or soullessness. The cosmologists try to fill the void with their gods, which are Big Numbers. But the millions of light years and squillions of stars fail to recapture a soul which is impervious to quantity and can only be replenished by quality. Thus, no matter how cosmologists multiply the numbers of galaxies, they still find themselves about ninety per cent short of the matter they need to account for the equilibrium of the universe. They have to postulate the existence of a vast amount of invisible “dark matter.” Most of this has to consist of exotic kinds of “virtual particles,” unlike any actually detected by nuclear physicists. These particles are extremely transitory and elusive yet all around us without our knowing it…. We can see them for what they are by now, I hope. Modern cosmology tells us as much about the modern unconscious as about the universe. For whatever we repress gathers force in the unconscious and throws a shadow over the world; and “dark matter” is precisely the shadow of the imaginative fullness we have denied to our cosmos.

Once we begin to see through literalisms, we begin to see them everywhere.


Where does that leave us, me and you? In the introduction to The Power of Myth, Moyers writes: "in his (Campbell's) final years he was striving for a new synthesis of science and religion. . . . He argued that it is not science that has diminshed human beings or divorced us from our divinity." But rather, Moyers explains, it was Campbell's belief that the astronauts landing on the moon resulted in "an unprecedented expansion of the horzon, one that could well serve in our age, as the ancient mythologies did in theirs, to cleanse the doors of perception to [in Campbell's words] 'the wonder, at once terrible and fascinating, of ourselves and the universe.'"

Moyers goes on to write:

The last time I saw him I asked him if he still believed--as he once had written--"that we are at this moment participating in one of the very greatest leaps of the human spirit to a knowledge not only of outside nature but also of our own deep inward mystery."

He thought for a minute and answered, "The greatest ever."


Science as a myth? I don't for one minute pretend to understand the potential of this greatest leap of the human spirit. Do you? Years ago when I was reading a lot of Campbell's books, I had a dream that I was taking a course with Campbell and I was late for class. I'm still late as far as I can tell. emoticon
 

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So this is what you were warning us about a few days ago, huh? Only now reading your most recent post, having saved it for a Saturday. Not sure I have the same courage as you to chase down certain things. I am sure I cannot know what I know until I've first known it, if that makes sense. Nor can I speak to what is said here about the Buddhist's way, knowing next to nothing about what constitutes its take on what makes for enlightenment. I do know I've always been a little sceptical about the notion that life, material life I suppose, is an illusion. All I have to do is experience physical pain of one sort or another to question the precept. Certainly I have lied to myself on occasion but, at least on the somatic level, I am pretty sure my body has never lied to me.

These are just thoughts at random and I hope received as such. But saying that science, at least viewed as a means to an end, is myth based, driven by a certain archetypal order of experience, rather begs the question: Which comes first? The chicken or the egg. It could be that mythologies point only to a different way of processing information, right? Perhaps an intuition based processing as opposed to the scientific method's procedure of hypothesis tested by empirical evidence. Possibly both ways, working independently of each other, can produce the same results, same world views.

Then there is this. Over the last ten years, among theoretical physicists, a mind blowing notion has increasingly taken hold. They now quite seriously trade in what they consider the distinct possibility that the cosmic scene is best described as a multiverse, our universe being only one of a possibly infinite number of "universes". The starting idea being that there have been many Big Bang moments and I think that in other dimensions there are still more to come. If such is the case physical laws describing our universe's actions describe our universe only, not any other. In others the speed of light may not be an absolute, nor Einstein's cosmological constant, not even the time space continuum that describes what we experience. Elsewhere gravity may not hold things together the way we are accustomed to, and quantuum actions may not occur. And so forth. What is my point? That all the interstices within which we comfortably operate, I say comfortably because at least we can name the laws involved, may be nothing more than a local affair.

Still at random. Your post makes me pull down from a book shelf a book. It is a translation of the ancient Chinese Tao Te Ching, translator himself Chinese, Chang Chung-yuan. I am sure you know the philosophy Tao involves. That there is a "Way". That there is a Way produces a harmony in which the One is attained and "ten thousand things come to life." Contradiction and limit disappear because, once the One is beheld existence itself is seen to be integrated. What is interesting about this particular interpretation of Tao is that it is approached through the philosophy of the Existentialist, Martin Heidegger for whom, in his words, "the together is experienced in terms of the belonging." What I find fascinating about Taoism is a certain parallel to the mystic tradition in the West. Sufis, Alchemists, Orphism, the Gnostics, and, for lack of a better term, the Great Mother tradition in which the divine is immanent, not trascendent, all speak to what Lao Tzu, living in the 6th C. BCE, called the Way. Unless I am badly mistaken, this is something of what Campbell meant when he spoke of the great leap.

In the end, Kat, I know that for me poetry is my Way. Through it I integrate the whole, and disparate parts no longer viewed as such. Also in the end I agree with what the poet, Ransom, said about poetry. That its is a natural piety, of this world, having nothing to say about any other, which is what both philosophy and theology constantly try to do. In this sense I've always viewed physics and poetry as sister arts, not so with science and religion, neither of which have much productive to say about each other. I mention Goethe a lot. And I've cited from his poem called "Humility" more than once. To me this is Tao:

"I cannot divide life, cannot divide what is within and what is without; I must give all of you the whole, if I am to live with you and myself. I have always written just what I felt, just what I thought; and thus, my dear friends, I split myself up and remain always one and the same."

A Jungian psychologist once called Goethe's a truly original personality type. Neither extrovert or introvert, but centrovert. Of the type he said it was Osirian like, referring to the ancient Egyptian god, Osiris. He said the type was fully integrated, since, fully individuated. This also, I think, is what Campbell had in mind.

Just riffing on your theme.

Tere
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Then there is this. Over the last ten years, among theoretical physicists, a mind blowing notion has increasingly taken hold. They now quite seriously trade in what they consider the distinct possibility that the cosmic scene is best described as a multiverse, our universe being only one of a possibly infinite number of "universes". The starting idea being that there have been many Big Bang moments and I think that in other dimensions there are still more to come. If such is the case physical laws describing our universe's actions describe our universe only, not any other. In others the speed of light may not be an absolute, nor Einstein's cosmological constant, not even the time space continuum that describes what we experience. Elsewhere gravity may not hold things together the way we are accustomed to, and quantuum actions may not occur. And so forth. What is my point? That all the interstices within which we comfortably operate, I say comfortably because at least we can name the laws involved, may be nothing more than a local affair.

I'm wondering if we might not take locality a step further and imagine that if perception changes the laws themselves might also change, or seem to change, or perhaps to say there is multi-universality within this one. Or is that possibility too strange, defies logic (what's logic?), does not compute? emoticon

What I find fascinating about Taoism is a certain parallel to the mystic tradition in the West. Sufis, Alchemists, Orphism, the Gnostics, and, for lack of a better term, the Great Mother tradition in which the divine is immanent, not trascendent, all speak to what Lao Tzu, living in the 6th C. BCE, called the Way. Unless I am badly mistaken, this is something of what Campbell meant when he spoke of the great leap.

Yes, I think so too.

A Jungian psychologist once called Goethe's a truly original personality type. Neither extrovert or introvert, but centrovert. Of the type he said it was Osirian like, referring to the ancient Egyptian god, Osiris. He said the type was fully integrated, since, fully individuated. This also, I think, is what Campbell had in mind.

Agree again. When I said, "I don't for one minute pretend to understand the potential of this greatest leap of the human spirit." I meant. . . . What did I mean? I meant I understand the concept intellectually, hypothetically, theoretically. I have yet to test the hypothesis by empirical evidence. I seem to recall Moyers asking Campbell if he had faith, and Campbell replying, "I don't need faith; I have experience." I meant to say I still operate more on faith than by experience. Or maybe when it comes to experience, I've had some but missed the meaning. emoticon

I enjoyed your riffing, Tere. Thanks for playing along even when I go crazy or out of tune. emoticon emoticon







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If crazy, delightfully so. Definetely not out of tune.

Your last post brings to mind a poem I've cited before. One I wish I had gotten to first. The poem works on so many different levels for me. And I think it germaine to your overall theme. It is called In Broken Images, by Robert Graves. Every time somebody announces another dictum about good and bad poetry, what makes for either, I think of it. Every time somebody hawks another conviction, like a drug pusher, I think of it. Every time someone too persuades themselves they are right about something I think of it, including myself.

I don't know when Graves made the poem. It had to have been in his mature years, after he outgrew the articiality and manners of the so-called Georgian school. This means it was made after WW1, which war he was in, came out of badly broken in the head, once, even, after the Battle of the Somme, left for dead on the ground of a field hospital.


In Broken Images

He is quick, thinking in clear images;
I am slow, thinking in broken images.
 
He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images;
I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images,

Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance;
Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance.

Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact,
Questioning their relevance, I question the fact.

When the fact fails him, he questions his senses;
When the fact fails me, I approve my senses.

He continues quick and dull in his clear images;
I continue slow and sharp in my broken images.

He in a new confusion of his understanding;
I in a new understanding of my confusion.


Robert Graves

For me a poem born of experience. Graves had an idea he called "the assault heroic". His notion was that poetry can transform, or maybe transmute, experience, all experience into precious alloy. This is how I can approach what Campbell meant by that he had experience. This is also another reason why I would reject the thread's starting post involving why autobiography does not make for good poetry.

Tere

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the Broken Images pulls me to reflect on Plan C:



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Plan C - Welcome message
"Everywhere you look people are talking about change.


These days it’s often preceded by the word ‘climate’ but it could just as easily be ‘political’, ‘economic’, ‘religious’, or ‘cultural’. The way we live our lives, the way we envision the world, our communities and ourselves really does have to change. And while the issue of change is being addressed on lots of different levels something is still missing.

Plan C’s aim is to address this void by looking a little deeper at theConsciousness, Creativity, Connection, Curiosity, Choice and perhaps most importantly Context that’s bubbling below the surface. Above all, it acknowledges the human element that is central to change, and which provides the dynamic intersection for the political economic, environmental transitions we need to make.

Most people don’t make changes until they have some kind of ‘ah-ha’ experience. Often just a brief moment when they can see themselves as part of the bigger picture and understand how they effect and are affected by the world around them. Often, in these moments of clarity, we find there is nowhere to go to make sense of them; no one with a plan for how to move forward from there.

Of course, lots of people have plans.

For most of the political, and business community Plan A is still in force – get back to normal, business as usual, reassure a worried public that it should keep consuming. This plan, of course, fails to link up the symptom – economic collapse – with the multiple causes – belief in a growth economy that depends on the exploitation of the earth’s limited resources, unrestricted trade, unquestioned waste and unpunished pollution of the natural world. Business as usual will further entrench us in catastrophes of climate change, peak oil, water shortages, population explosion and a polluted landscape.

So what about Plan B? It’s only six years, since environmentalist and founder of the Earth Policy Institute, Lester R Brown, published Plan B, Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, and only a year since its third edition, Plan B 3.0, Mobilizing to save Civilisation. With its hard message that only a complete restructuring of our taxes and fiscal priorities will impel the market to tell the ecological truth, the best use of our time, it suggests, is to lobby our elected government representatives.

While our actions at a local level should not be underestimated, only big government can enact the necessary changes. It’s a radical, seemingly all encompassing solution, and yet, given our propensity as a race to fight and squabble over the Earth’s natural resources, who is to say that having undertaken such a massive external restructuring, and overcome the challenges of peak oil, we won’t simply project our internal malaise onto something new such as water, or who owns the sun’s rays?

This is the paradox which informs Plan C and makes it different.

The question that drives our enquiry is not just ‘what kind of world do we want?’ but also ‘what kind of people do we have to become to make that world – and then live in it sustainably, peacefully, intelligently and courageously?’ Increasingly we sense that who we are being in relation to our cause, is as equally important as what we are doing. In short, that true sustainable change is only possible from the inside out.

This website is an exploration, an inspiration, a way of visioning the world through a different lens, listening to language in a new way, seeing new pictures, the pattern which connects, in the apparent chaos all around us. It is about acknowledging our contradictions, our everydayness but, at the same time, our power and uniqueness in the world, especially at this time of great change.

This doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in the big issues of the day; we just look at them differently.

To this end Plan C advocates a kind of slow media, with thoughtful content, that puts the human experience at its centre. It is a place for enquiring minds, fresh proposals, and the willingness to be honest, complex and sometimes even wrong. Plan C is a work in progress, a place where thoughtful journalists, campaigners and change drivers can come to grapple with the bigger issues free from the usual constraints of the mainstream media.

We may not always be ‘right’ in our conclusions, but from a journalistic point of view, a new more discursive tack is required when it comes to reporting the environment and global climate change; one which attempts to pull back the veil of polarised debate, to reveal the deeper, underlying currents and forces for change.

This is our objective at Plan C."

         



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I can see why the poem puts you in mind of this plan C. I can go with this.

Tere
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Tere,

I've always liked "In Broken Images." Graves pretty much nails it in that one.

Libra,

Plan C: I like it. Thanks for the link.


Over the weekend I spent some time reading "A Poem Beginning with a Line from Pindar" by Robert Duncan ("the anti-Silliman"):

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I must have read the poem years ago, because it is in an anthology I still have, but I didn't get it back then, that's for sure. Now I'm struck by the way he interweaves, through the use of collage technique, the myth of Cupid and Psyche, autobiography and current events.



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Such a resonating poem. Yeah, Kat. Just like Campbell said it should.

Tere
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Here's an essay I enjoyed reading the other day:

"Gnostic Gospel: The secret history of Robert Duncan’s H.D. Book." by Lisa Jarnot

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Re: Does Autobiography Make Good Poetry?


Adding some more notes to this thread.

From the last chapter of Tom Cheetham's book on Henry Corbin, Green Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition & The Battle for the Soul of the World"

"We are living out the consequences of three great crises: a rupture between the individual and the Divine, a severing of the felt connection between human beings and the living earth, and a profound breakdown of long-held assumptions about the nature and function of language. In traditional terminology, we are witnessing a collapse of the structures that make sense of the relations among God, Creation, Logos and the human person. Two of the catastrophes are fairly easily categorized; they are spiritual and environmental. The third, the crisis of Logos, is more diffuse and more fundamental. It is a crisis of meaning. These crises may be understood together, as part of single, coherent story. I can’t claim that this is the best story that can be told about how we arrived at our current situation, but I think it is a good story; that is, it is a fertile, living, open-ended story that suggests its own continuation, its own kinds of resolutions. And I must admit, my fondness for this story is born of a strong desire to find something original, that is, something at the origin, that can serve us all as a kind of common ground."

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Re: Does Autobiography Make Good Poetry?


From Kenneth Warren's essay "Between Language and Ta'wil: Robert Creeley, Jack Clarke and Poetics in Buffalo after Olson," delivered at the Soul in Buffalo Conference:

A Curriculum of the Soul exists within the continuous tradition of Hermeticism, a spiritual path of exotic and free research connected to Hermes, the scribe of the gods and guide of souls in the realm of the dead. In celebrating A Curriculum of the Soul within the underworld poetics and quantum resurrection cycle of Olson’s right brain “onslaught,” I want to propose that Buffalo is an attractor site for the adversative moieties of a coincidentia oppositorum. I hope to demonstrate that with the Language movement becoming more and more visible during the late seventies, SUNY Buffalo became a major site for a clash of poetics. The archetypal forces that drove these moieties to contest matters of language and soul, personality and power at SUNY Buffalo are dialectically structured; they can be imagined as two bicameral camps, each with cognitive biases, quantum effects and poetic moods. On one hand, there is the left brain profane separatist particle Language clan of innies. This clan is indisposed toward the transcendental entity of soul. On the other hand, there is the right brain sacred participatory wave Olsonian clan of outies, disposed toward the transcendental entity of soul.

"Paradise is a person,” Olson proclaims in The Maximus Poems. “The soul is a magnificent angel” (240). Against Olson’s image of the essential self, the Language Movement assembled a critical arsenal from Roland Barthes' Writing Degree Zero (1967), Karl Marx's Capital , and Ferdinard de Saussure's Course in General Linguistics (1966), to name a few fundamental sources. The Language Movement attacked the descriptive, naturalistic, referential and transcendental mystifications of literature and accentuated in the field of language the linguistic contradictions of commodity culture. As pivotal members of the Language Movement, Steve McCaffery, Ron Silliman and Charles Bernstein fashioned deconstructive death rays, so to speak. They aimed at Olson’s cult of the soul. “The demise of the transcendental ego, of the authentic self, of the poet as lonely genius, of unique artistic style: these were taken as something of a given,” (169) notes Marjorie Perloff in Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy (2004), describing the critical aims and claims of the Language Movement. From the whole brain typological perspective that Herrmann and Giannini supply, the left brain profane separatist particle Language clan of innies is cognitively pre-disposed to reject holistic and timeless conceits about authorship that strengthen the cult of the soul. The archetypal ingredient of presence, supported through right brain cognitive operations crucial to both intuition and Hermeticism, is squeezed through left brain critical procedures by deconstructive deathray adepts. The right brain median line to “a magnificent angel” is suspect.

. . .

Dialectically speaking, the serotonin drenched right brain participant experience of being “Under the Mushroom” in Olson’s projective vatic space had to give rise to the left brain prowess of deconstructive death ray adepts who serve the magical group-fashioning powers of the language-centered community. Not surprisingly, then, a deconstructive death ray posse gathered with Silliman in “Aesthetic Tendency and the Politics of Poetry: A Manifesto,” published in Social Text,19/20 (Fall 1988) to blast the self. Joining forces with Silliman were Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Steve Benson, Bob Perelman, and Barrett Watten whose group manifesto “denies the centrality of the individual artist” (264). Taking aim at the unity of the personality as a whole, the deathray posse declared: “The self as the central and final term of creative practice is being challenged and exploded in our writing” (264).

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Last edited by Katlin, Apr/25/2011, 1:55 pm
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Re: Does Autobiography Make Good Poetry?


From Ron Silliman's blog, June 4-10, 2006:

"What would a Curriculum of the Soul for a post-theoretical age look like?"

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