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Terreson Profile
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Her Body Thought


Let's see if I can say this without stumbling. In his essay, "The Metaphysical Poets," T.S. Eliot coined his famous phrase, "dissociation of sensibility." His thinking ran like this:

"A thought to Donne was an experience; it modified his sensibility. When a poet's mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience; the ordinary man's experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary. The latter falls in love, or reads Spinoza, and these two experiences have nothing to do with each other, or with the noise of the typewriter or the smell of cooking; in the mind of the poet these experiences are always forming new wholes.

We express the difference by the following theory: The poets of the seventeenth century, the successors of the dramatists of the sixteenth century, possessed a mechanism of sensibility which could devour any kind of experience. They are simple, artificial, difficult, or fantastic, as their predecessors were; no less or more than Dante, Guido Cavalcanti, or Cino. In the seventeenth century a dissociation of sensibility set in, from which we have never recovered, and this dissociation, as is natural, was aggravated by the influence of the two most powerful poets, Milton and Dryden."

That is how the case seemed to Eliot. Viewed as comment on a cultural development I think he was right. I disagree with him, however, as to cause, or, as he puts it, to what aggravated the development. My feeling is that both Milton and Dryden were as much casualties of this shift as has been all of the Western world since the first decades of the seventeenth century, including, if not especially, Eliot himself.

An almost exact contemporary of John Donne was Francis Bacon, inventor of the scientific method, what resulted in the scientific revolution which, viewed culturally, proved to be one of the most impacting discoveries of the early Modern era. Much literature has been written on the darker, negative consequences of the scientific revolution on human consciousness. I think of it as reenechantment literature which, as one author puts it, looks to redress the "destructive distancing of man from nature" science has resulted in. To this author, Morris Berman, the antidote is to heal the body/mind split science has brought about by, in his words, "coming back to our senses." His notion is that, rather than thinking with our heads alone, it is necessary to relearn how to think with the whole body, something he calls somatic thinking. In effect, what has been denatured by science, which would be not just nature itself, but the whole round of human experience, stands in need of reenchantment.

When it comes to the general dissociation of sensibility this is what is at play, a radical shift in how we proceed has had a negative impact on how we comprehend experience. That has also resulted in a diminishment of how experience is taken in. That's what Eliot intuited. By using what he knew best, the course of poetry and poets who could perhaps be viewed as his sentinels of human experience, that's what he came to.

It strikes me as interesting that, in his later poetry, Donne became almost obsessed with another split, that of body and soul. In poem after poem he looks to localize precisely where the body ends and where the soul begins. No accident that, where his youthful poetry looks to affirm what his senses tell him, his later, Churchman poetry becomes preocccupied with what the Church tells him, that the body is transient, a disposable vessel only for what is immortal, which is the soul. What results is a perpetual uneasiness. And yet, even in his later poetry, his insistent sensibilities come through on occasion. These lines from his "Of the Progresse of the Soule," a poem written on the second anniversary of the death of one, Mistress Elizabeth Drury, bear out his insistent sensibilities:

She, of whose soule, if we may say, 'twas Gold,
Her body was th'Electrum, and did hold
Many degrees of that; we understood
Her by her sight; her pure and eloquent blood
Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought,
That one might almost say, her body thought...

Her body thought. Not the words of a poet willingly relinquishing what his senses affirm, or this world for any other, or what his brain alone might tell him.

A relaxed afterthought. Decades ago, just starting out, I chanced on the writings of that French madman, Antonin Artaud. In style his poetry tended to the hermetic, what Medieval and Renaissance alchemical writers traded in. There was this one poem that influenced my way of proceeeding big time and has ever since. It is called, Here Where I Stand, starts out this way:

Here where I myself stand / a man
I stand
what I myself do / a man
I do
there is nothing more
there will never be anything more
           than that.
There is no science, no wisdom,
life has been lost from the day one single thing
became known.

Terreson

Last edited by Terreson, Oct/30/2014, 9:56 pm
Oct/30/2014, 1:48 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Christine98 Profile
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Re: Her Body Thought


hey Tere,

So good to read your thoughts here. I find myself resisting the idea that the scientific method should be viewed as an impediment to "coming to our senses." Too black and white? Too either/or? I need to think on it.

hope all's well with you,

Chris

Oct/31/2014, 1:55 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Her Body Thought


Very good, Chris. Just putting a thought out there.

Tere
Nov/1/2014, 6:31 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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