Statement of Philosophy

A site for exploration and discussion about verse, poetics, the aesthetic, and creative writing in general.

Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.



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Monday, July 22, 2013

"Yellow Goblins" by Fanny Howe -- Poetry Daily, 7/22/2013

from Poetry (July/August 2013)
poem found here
 

first lines:
Yellow goblins
and a god I can swallow:

 

the phantasy of the aesthetic

I rather get a little deeper into the ideas of the aesthetic and the nomic, here. Of course, in its brevity, I can only go so far. So do not read this as definitive statements. As with everything on this site, my aim is to generate ideas not through definition but through discourse. As such, engage what follows -- excusing what verbal inadequacies that might exist -- on your own terms, in your own way. I will surely return to them.
 

"What a strange little poem."

That is rather my go-to phrase in response to a poem that sparks my aesthetic sense: how strange. Of course, my use of the word strange, there, is rather idiomatic. In that context, the word is me speaking the presence of the aesthetic quality of whatever work I am reading. To understand it, you cannot simplify the idea by correlating it to the presence of such as "yellow goblins" within the text. Strange does not mean "imaginative" in the more common sense. Nor does it mean "non-quotidian" -- at least not in the sense that such might prohibit a work set in a commonplace reality from the aesthetic.

However, it does mean "non-quotidian" in another sense, that having to do with the difference between the aesthetic and the nomic modes of language and thought. The nomic aspect of our psyches is that part of us that is concerned with the truth-nature of reality. It is that aspect of our mind that is communal, that creates language as efficient means of communication, and thus "meaning" in the practical (which can be read "positivist") sense. As such, our nomic selves is that part of us concerned with establishing a defined and meaningful world -- and, most importantly, maintaining that world against all reminders that "truth" as a quality is always, in the end, but conventional in nature. Such is the game of the nomic: it exists such that we can have a stable understanding of what reality is, and understanding that is common to our cultural groups. To maintain that stable notion of reality it must hide from our cultural selves the the utter reality that all truth is convention, must assure us that truth really is "truthful" -- when, all about us, the aesthetic nature of the cosmos is constantly pointing out to us the opposite.

So there is a very real sense that the aesthetic is "strange" in the manner of being non-quotidian: the aesthetic is not "of" the world-as-truth. It is not "of" the truthful. Indeed, the aesthetic is instead experiential; it is the engagement of the individual (as opposed to cultural) self with the cosmos. Nomic writing is always reiteration of the cultural conventions of truth. Aesthetic writing, on the other hand, is disruptive of that modality: not in the manner of offering counter truths, but in the manner of moving the modality of the text from that of the assertion of truths and and the possibility truthfulness to the experience of the microcosmos of the text.

Thus, what a strange, little poem.

It is difficult to talk about small poems in terms of poetics and medium, especially with small poems taken on their own. I find this rather to be the case (as I have said before) with such as Paul Celan, whose works, I believe, suffer greatly when isolated. His poems need to be read in number, as part of the greater whole of their containing books. (Or whatever other context you might establish, like period of time.) Indeed, this little poem does remind me somewhat of the experience of Celan's poetry. Though, this is a somewhat formal poem, with two stresses per line. And the stanzas are not arbitrary breaks, but have their own ideational selves. There is also a strong ideational field tying the whole of the five stanzas together. (For me, that field lies within the words "fairy tale," in their mythic, historical -- even Proppian -- sense.) But with small poems I always feel like I'm trying to talk about golf swings by examining not only the swing of just one player, but only the back swing of that one player.

But, hopefully, you can see and hear the structural play that is going on. It is no small part of this poem. And it can not be over-emphasized: this is a well-crafted poem. (Which I say qualified by the above statement on small poems and context.) There is no superfluity of word, here. Everything resonates. The more you read and re-read it, the more that resonance seems to build energy.

For it is a strange little poem. A poem that functions within the aesthetic, and not the nomic. And as where the nomic is always re-iteration of the assumed truth-reality of the world, the aesthetic is creative, and in the literal sense of the word. The aesthetic text is a creation of a microcosmos within and out of the cosmos of total reality. Not to the ends of truth, but to the ends of the experience of that new being, that microcosmos.

But, while I use the term microcosmos, it is false to say that I mean the creation of a "new world." Even were the text not this little fairy-talish, ten-line poem but a 200,000 word novel, the aesthetic aspect would not lie in the "strangeness" of the text's world. Such an idea would suddenly declare every fantasy or science fiction work to be predominantly aesthetic texts. By microcosmos, I am not simply speaking of the world of the text, or of whether that world is duplicate to the "real" world.

In truth, the descriptive (described) world of a text is irrelevant to the modality of the text. The reason lies not in the question of what constitutes a "real" world in a text, but in that there is no "reality" to be found in a text. There are no places. There are no characters. There are no objects or events. There are only ideas.[FN]

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[FN] For those interested, one of my favorite lines to that matter lies in Genette's Narrative Discourse Revisited (p. 148):
"[T]aking everything into account, this term [idea] is preferable to "image," and it is high time to substitute it for image."
The taste of it lies in part in its assertiveness, an assertiveness that seems to be saying "this is obvious, why is this not so?" It is an assertiveness strengthened in that it is in fact a parenthetical within a larger statement on the implied author, which I'll give just for the sake of completion:
"If one means by it that beyond the narrator (even an extradiegetic one), and by various pinpointed or blogal signs, the narrative text (like any other text) produces a certain idea (taking everything into account, this term is preferable to "image," and it is high time to substitute it for image) of the author, one means something obvious, which I can only acknowledge and even insist on, and in this sense I willingly approve of Bronzwaer's formula: "The scope of narrative theory [. . .] excludes the writer but includes the implied author."
(The elided text is an insertion by Genette.)
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Even if I wrote 10,000,000 words on the history of Abraham Lincoln, any relation of those words to "truth" would exist by convention only. What I would have made with my words would be rather a cluster of ideas given the appelation "Abraham Lincoln." Similarly, if I read a book about the world of Smiffydub, the land of the Annoying Faeries with Fabulous Hair, that world would be no more or less real than the world in a documented history about London during the Blitz . . . . . except that I as a reader accept the conventions that make it so. The more the book is written and read to those, according to those, and in dependence upon those conventions, the more the "world" in the book is "real" in a nomic sense. Which is to say, it reinforces the "truth-reality" of the real world, which includes, most importantly, reinforcing and reiterating the that "truth-reality" is in fact truth.

The aesthetic text, however, does not operate so. (Or, I should say, "the aesthetic nature of a text.") Rather than performing the conventions of truth and culture, it is creating its own experience. (Indeed, it is not concerned with truth at all, except in the cases where it is attempting to get the reader to experience the nature of truth.) And so again, strange indeed.

And this is, actually, the key element of this whole idea, as it concerns the nomic. For the nomic side of our brains, equally -- if not far more -- important to the world established as truth by the nomos, is the necessary and continuous effort to maintain the truthfulness of it all, to reiterate not only that "X is true" but that there is indeed such a thing as "truth" to begin with. An absolutely necessary aspect of language if I want a person to lend me their pencil. But wholly oppositional to any effort of mine to make out of language something beautiful. This is central not only to the philosophy of it all, but to creative writing as a philosophical endeavor, as an aesthetic endeavor, as a liberatory endeavor.

And this poem does make for interesting contrast to the previous poem I addressed, "Mimesis" by Fady Joudah, which is primarily (if not overwhelmingly) a nomic poem, one utterly dependent upon and playing out of the conventions of culture and truth. One whose purpose is to imbue the reader with a "truth." That cannot be said for this poem.[FN] And, perhaps in the exploration of the two, you can see how "Mimesis" is about truth-reality; about statements and assertions of fact; whereas "Yellow Goblins" is instead an experience, an engagement with a thing made out of words.

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[FN] Note, that an aesthetic poem is not about "truth" does not mean it does not have ideas. All texts produce ideas. The aesthetic text, however, does not attempt to perform the conventions that associate those ideas with truth -- an act with actually limits, over-rides, and removes the ideas create from the words, replacing them with the ideas associated -- outside and previous to the text -- with the carried meanings of truth the text is performing.
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A side note:

I have in my google/blogger bio the word "fantasist." For a few years, however, if people asked what kinds of things I wrote, I would answer, "I work in phantasy, with a 'ph.'" I was making the distinction between fantasy and phantasy, having found in my reading that the latter seemed to be used most often (and contrary to the prior) in an aesthetic sense. It is an old term, within the literary. One that did not originally mean, merely, generically, "a writer of fictions in strange worlds." The term is not so often encountered these days. And I found the term tended to create more confusion than clarification, even though my use of it was in part with intent to create the need for explanation (and, possibly, conversation, silly me).

Reminded of that by this poem and my thoughts thereon, I looked up the word in the OED, so see if there was any validity to the distinction I was intuitively making. Under "fantasy," just after the etymological trail, there is this note:

The senses of φαντασια from which the sense of the word in the modern langauges are developed are: 1. appearance, in late Greek especially spectral apparition, phantom (so Latin phantasia in Vulgate); 2. the mental process or faculty of sensuous perception; 3. the faculty of imagination. These senses passed through Old French into English together with others (as delusive fancy, false or unfounded notion, caprice, etc.) which had been developed in the Late Romanic or French. The shortened form FANCY, which apparently originated in the 15th century, had in the time of Shakespeare become more or less differentiated in sense. After the revival of Greek learning, the longer form was often spelt phantasy, and its meaning was influenced by the Greek entymon. In modern use fantasy and phantasy, despite their identity in sound and in ultimate etymology, tend to be apprehended as separate words, the predominant sense of the former being 'caprice, whim, fanciful invention,' while that of the latter is 'imagination, visionary notion.'

It's not absolute, but sufficient. And what with the context of this site and my growing project, I believe I shall change the word back.

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