Friday, May 05, 2006

To Know or not Know the Known

I am very much taken with the excerpts from the correspondence (1993) of Dean Young and Mark Halliday recently reprinted in American Poet. Particularly this:

Halliday: "What we want is truth, from art. From serious art. Important art. We want truth. It comes, of course, in odd ways, from odd angles--'slant' as Dickinson said. It may come through fictions whose fictionality we are meant to sense. But ultimately we want truth; not bullshit."

Young: "This is part of what I think you mean by truth [consciousness as a particle rather than a wave], something somewhat algebraic, a product of proof that can be duplicated in a laboratory setting. That last bit exaggerates a bit but not too much. I however do not feel the most profound and human truths are in fact truths at all. They are feelings. People do not have true or false feelings, only those understood and/or not understood, the understood ones being no more or less worthy or eternity, no more demonstrative of human nobility than the obscure, the opaque, the mysterious."

So, reader, forgive Mark Halliday for being too conservative 13 or 14 years ago. Or perhaps here he is being somewhat ironic. Is the 'we' Mark & Dean, which Dean misunderstands, or is the 'we' all those other people out there? 'Truth' is what my book club wants from literature. I think. Sometimes it wants something digestible. But, ultimately, it wants something it can find. Something it can know. Is there something wrong with that?

I don't know. It depends, I suppose, on how you define the known that you want to know. If you can define it ahead of time, without going through the process of knowing the painting, or the poem, or if the known you expect to see or read or hear is something you've been told exists in this particular work and you go looking for it--well, that seems not necessarily 'wrong' but rather unproductive. Do you read to confirm who you are and what you think, or do you read to explore?

This is what I like about what Dean says about truth being a matter of feelings. Truth is not an object, nor is it objective. It doesn't strike me that you can go looking for it and 'find' it somewhere. And if it's something you can find, then there's no point in making art because it's much more efficient to simply start mass production on manufacturing truth as a marketable and packagable thing, like a Barbie doll. Which brings us to the Bush Administration and to the long set of white marble steps that lead to the portal of the U.S. Capitol.

Profundity is a matter of 'feelings', and if you deracinate the feeling from lit or painting or whatever, you have stripped it of essential matter. I think you need to feel your way through a poem or a painting to arrive at a place where it makes sense to your consciousness, whether you agree with it or not or see it slant or just don't get it, but you recognize its existence.

Anyway, here is more from Dean Young (2005) on the same subject, more or less (hey, it's all the same subject):

"I don't think a poem needs to have a point anymore than a peach tree needs to have a point. But I do feel it has to have affect, to reveal itself not as geometry but as a living thing. To move, to produce, to bring forth. It may be too easy to interpret that need as a psychological requirement to the poem, that a poem has to reach down its own throat and rip out its own heart. Well, that DOES work but can it show a change in consciousness (what is the thing that poetry produces? consciousness, more consciousness which is just one of the reasons the unconscious is of such vital importance because it is what consciousness must always aspire to--to know the unknown, or at least sleep with it) by a movement in thought, in the centers of thought and feeling, chakra's as good a word as any for it. The point may be to be not to mean but not the being of a stone which is static but the being of the lizard and the fire, of the moment which is made of its own vanishing, of the petals falling in the spring rain, that strange ticking we can hear in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep, our secret voice, our three hearts, our little pot of basil, our dream of the father coming back, that time we saw the swimming pool covered with yellow leaves the snatches of music that sing ourselves to ourselves, the horse's soft nose who came across the pasture to greet us, the red triangle, the green ant, winter, the eclipse, the breathing, the words.

What's the human predicament? Something between facing mortality and organizing my closet. . . . What IS one to do with the rest of one's life?"

I share that with whoever's out there, friend or stranger, mostly because it has profoundly affected me, and when I'm feeling discouraged about writing or whatever, it's what I go back and read. Then I feel better.

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