REASONS POETRY FEELS INACCESSIBLE TODAY :
Much lyric poetry descends from ancient hymn, and the hymn is a sort of prayer, and religious artforms tend to feel alien in a secular world.
Today’s dominant artforms—popular music, TV shows, film, video games and, yes, cuisine—give a gratification more immediate.
Poetry has tended to be written, something increasingly viewed as an obstacle in a culture where the dominant artforms provide effortless gratification.
Non-lyric poetry, such as the epic or drama, has evolved into the novel, soon followed by cinema and television.
For courtship and purposes of seduction, popular music now takes the place of the erotic lyric.
Related to the first item, language has lost its magical status and is no longer seen as being capable of changing reality through mere utterance, with a life of its own.
Children are not raised with poetry because their parents were scarcely raised around it, by contrast the dominant artforms are increasingly unavoidable.
Poetry can still be powerful, of course, but when it comes to simply evoking mental-emotional atmospheres, modern entertainment forms have a lot more stimulation. If poetry stays at the level of mere entertainment, or the mere invoking of pleasure and emotion, then it will stay a niche atavistic form for a small audience.The answer is not in following the evolution of the popular forms of art, which have a different purpose and trajectory rooted in their reflections of the time they are written, but to understand the esoteric function of any form, especially the ancient forms, which functioned not only on the popular level, but which were designed to function on a universal logical and timeless mathematical level. They also help frame the popular level as something that can be and was often intentionally designed.
Ancient hymns were not just religious prayers, but logical formulas for consciousness control in one’s self and in others. They were multi-media social engineering, songs that were sung and acted out not only to condition the masses and manage the structure of consciousness of society, but to serve as a technology for the initiate.I think you would really like one of my favorite books called “Meditations through the Rg Veda: Four Dimensional Man”. The author uses philosophy, set theory, and music theory to analyze the hymns of the Rg Veda, the oldest and most important text of humanity (according to esoteric tradition which puts Vedic India before the Mesopotamian culture, even if wasn’t written down till later).
The book inspired the more technical work of Ernest McClain, who found a similar game being played in much of the world’s ancient sacred texts, even in Plato, where the universal logical and mechanical problems of incommensurability and coherence were the essence of the deepest levels of their art.
Adam, I can’t totally agree with your first statement, namely the assertion that today’s entertainment forms will necessarily feel more satisfying when it comes to the evocation of atmosphere. That sort of effect, which poetry achieves very handily, isn’t to be confused with entertainment effects. I am personally nauseated by the atmospheres generated in many films, some admired, not to mention music. Most have lost the receptive faculty necessary to experience poetry, and that is something I accept.
I’m often in a position where I have been asked to justify why poetry should still exist, why it feels so inaccessible. My father, for instance is genuinely curious about this. Eliot managed to break through the modern barrier, and write in a way people, cultural elites but also some regular people, at least at the time, found irresistible. Now they will reject his work, for his conservative views, not his poetry; but he will be read for the reasons you state, in perpetuity, if only by a few readers.
Adam, I still am hypnotized by poetry in the very way you ascribe to ancient hymns.
I said stimulating NOT satisfying because I was definitely distinguishing entertainment from the deeper evocation you are referring to. But I think much modern poetry and literature is stuck at the level of invoking pleasure or stimulating a mood and only occasionally stumbling into deeper effects because it doesn’t understand the difference, and has nothing to offer but a variety of what people already get from popular entertainment. Any art or experience of difference or otherness can hypnotize or take us into another state of consciousness, if we are receptive to it. The important question has more to do with the consciousness being invoked. Does it illuminate and enlighten, or merely offer an experience of difference, another taste to try and judge before we move onto the next distraction?
Modernism, sometimes consciously and sometimes not, tended to privilege the effect of defamiliarization, and this easily turns into a form of novelty-seeking; you and I both agree that there’s sometimes nothing behind the effect. However, the true effect isn’t about illumination/enlightenment so much as a lifting of the veil of phenomenal reality in order to expose the geometric forms of life. At the same time, there is another less sacred and more sensuous type of effect that ALL poets must achieve, paradoxically, in order to reach the realm of the sacred, thus a poet whose phrasing is inept, and their handling of the form displeasing to Venus, will fail to penetrate into gorgeous de Chirico realms of tower cube sphere and plane, all blanketed in a fine powder of starlight and silence.
“lifting of the veil of phenomenal reality in order to expose the geometric forms of life. “: a good description of enlightenment/illumination!
i make a small distinction between the achievement of something and the vision of something.
sure but one doesn’t want to fall into representational logic of either sort. visionary poetry isn’t symbolizing some separate divine object, but helping embody it.
As a side note, the other thing I feel that modernism often achieved was less about psychopathology and illness for their own sake or as an expression of a late stage culture, and about reclaiming the dark chthonic elements of the psyche which were jettisoned by Christianity and rationalism over the course of centuries—so the primitivism that modernism embraced wasn’t completely about novelty, but about rediscovering something forgotten, just as it was happening in psychoanalysis
but Adam,I still can’t help but think you are placing too much importance on the END, rather than on the verbal object itself—my emphasis is placed on the objecthood of the poem, rather than viewing the poem as an expedient means, so to speak, to some end.
…that is, the miracle of art is that the raw material, whether it be language or clay, ends up not as an extension of us, or some tool, but somehow assumes an autonomous existence, which I think analogous to God breathing life into raw clay. And so a work of art is a sort of person, not something that helps us as people achieve a spiritual end—the work has an intrinsic interest.
And to go back to my original observation, poetry is made of language; if language is increasingly instrumental, as it is now—if people live in a prose world, in which music takes the place of poetry—it will be hard to appreciate a verbal object as an art object. In earlier times language probably wasn’t nearly as specialized, and relegated to communication, but words were still viewed as having supernatural force, not to mention that people had greater appreciation of the sensuous properties of words.
In the end, I view a work of art, or a poem I like, as a person—I love her mind and I love her soul and her body. She enables me to think less of myself, and to inhabit the reality of another.
In any case, your tendency as a reader is a little bit like that of aristotle, or philosophers in general, in that you see art, first, as something that aids you on your philosophical or spiritual quest. But art is an end in itself, and it is inexhaustible
It is a matter of perspective. Everything can be reduced to one end or another, spiritual or material, sensual or intellectual. The point is to not do that, to make everything more than it is, precisely by asking what it can do, not in an exhaustive judgment according to prefigured ends, but as an opening to endless possibility. That is the Divine. It is not an end, it is precisely the open ended. That is love. It is not an end in itself, but an opening to the infinite value of the beloved or the object….nothing is undivine, nothing unworthy of love, but some things take more work!
you are fortunate to be able to enjoy so much dominant art, for whatever reasons. But I’m saying that there is a kind of way to approach poetic texts that you may not realize, thus requiring you to enjoy poems as supplements to something you already do instinctively. For me poetry is instinctive so I just have it raw, I read it nonchalantly, with no aim to understand anything with any effort, until my body is first delighted and relaxed. I’m a formalist, first and foremost Venusian—-Venus is where I draw most of my vitality, for better or worse.
I was kind of seeing if our differences here would play out as an explication of the four modes we discussed last week. We started in the more traditional and obvious transcendental positions, with you affirming the standard metaphysical structure of difference with references to objects in themselves or beings as ends in themselves, with me also affirming a traditional, though, as you pointed out more Aristotlean mode, with emphasis not on essence but process towards higher forms.
But mostly I was taking a more dialectical mode, with that process of transcendence becoming more driven by negation and relation (the object becomes what it is through relating it to a process of transcendence). Either way the transcendental structure–as you noted in reference to my more process-orientated and mental formulation–renders the object a means to an end of some selfsame subject or substance, though the phenomenal/ sensual mode does the same by subjecting the subject to the object in a reification of the object’s qualities as they appear to some subject and its desires. Like the two sides of desire in sadomasochism: the desire to dominate or be dominated.
The immanent structure on the other hand could be said to also have two modes. I was aiming for my usual immanent affirmation of every thing, with judgment and desire for satisfaction being transformed into critical mutation and infinite redeployment. But you expressed well, without the need for any philosophical terms, the immanent negation, which takes every individual thing not as it appears to a subject judging its essence or satisfying his desire, or as part of something else, but as a simple one as “raw” data unrelated to anything else or as “object” to some subject.
It is similar to the Eastern options that were made to deal with the problems of transcendental metaphysics, with me tending towards the tantric mode of the infinitely heterogeneous, and you the nondual equating of all forms as equal and perfect, empty of all reference and judgment.
Well put, and it’s important to note that you provided initially a critique of poetry as it has been written for the past two hundred years or so, arguing what it should do now in order to become relevant again. You and I agree that it has little hope in that department, which is something poetry needs to acknowledge, and the sooner it does the sooner it can be released of illusions that lead to frustration on the part of teachers and young students. But it will remain a niche atavistic form no matter what, as I see it. My contention with you is that you seem to believe great poetry will come from spiritual adepts, and I say it will not necessarily.
In itself poetry is a playful but very serious artform that will flourish when a culture treats language differently than ours which views it as three things: 1)scientist; 2)servant; 3)joke teller. The third is closer to where language needs to be for poetry to become again legible. You are saying we need to become more Saturn in order to make poetry live again, which I think a fine idea. But I think even more important that is the need to raise children on poetry, have it be again a part of their early education, part of the household.
Poetry from some austere spiritual adept with a “Saturnian” vibe will obviously not become popular in a society where the only path to depth is ironic wit. But spiritual and poetic thinking, that is, true visionary insight and the language it can create–whatever the style or audience it has or doesn’t have–will affect a culture in subtle and esoteric ways that may lead to a more evolved humanity.
A more evolved and spiritualized humanity will naturally want to raise its children with a sensitive poetic consciousness. Poetry at this point shouldn’t try to be popular or change with the times; it should be what it was always meant to be: a mode of language that can create and invoke ways of seeing the world that normal prosaic language cannot. Poets have confused novelty and explicit cultural influence with the magical power of visionary thought and speech. Music, ritual, philosophy all can help make language more magical and poetic as it did in poetry’s early days.
“Poetry” conceived as a discrete art form may have just been a temporary fad and will remain a niche curiosity, just as most of the specialized disciplines are now becoming obsolete. But the spirit of philosophy, poetry, and all art forms live on as long as we push language and expression to express and reveal the emerging insights and mutating sentiments of a rapidly changing humanity.
I feel like this is a great stopping point for now. And I agree re: poetry as discrete art form—-it used to refer to all art, and history and religious text. Then all the different disciplines were established, leaving poetry with very little. And then art as a separate discipline was established, which turned poetry into but one form of art… inside-out.
…one last thing. The crafting of hymns, it seems to me, is at the core of this term poetry, something you and I have each in his own way suggested. Epic and creation myth (cosmogony) are present as well in the beginning, though they have largely morphed into currently dominant, updated forms, the first into the novel followed by cinema, the second into science and history.
The hymn meanwhile continues to echo in the lyric poetries of a secular society. I would argue the hymn can celebrate a ruler or a god, but also a beloved as though a god, something that music perhaps in most people’s view does better than poetry, I suppose. The flipside of the hymn, which celebrates an external someone or something, is the meditative verse which arose with the Reformation. I detect something important here, the hymn of the self (think Whitman).
But I predict, with the re-discovery of the gods, a return to hymn, which is nothing more than a prayer constructed as a beautiful composition; yet it will also incorporate the individual subjectivity to a greater degree than it did in the ancient world. The poetic possibilities of fable and parable will be better understood as well in the future, in part owing to the work yours truly has done with them.