Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Philosophical Image

Kasey's recent post made me think of this footnote to an old poem of mine.

We lift images from appearances and apply them to surfaces never the other way round. A surface is that to which an image may be effortlessly applied. An appearance is that from which it is lifted without strain. To imagine is sometimes to see and sometimes to do. The image may equally well be seen or done. The same image is equally compatible with surfaces and appearances. There are not some images that go better with surfaces than with appearances. But we must keep in mind that we cannot impose an image on an appearance; we must lift it from there. Nor can we lift an appearance from a surface, we must put it there. Thus, we lift an image off the appearance of the closed door and apply this same image in opening its surface. This whether in imagination or in experience. That is, the door appears closed as we run into it, and it surfaces in its openness as we pass through it. Note here that the door's openness is nothing to the door but belongs to you and me (the subject), i.e., that which is in motion. Its closedness, on the other hand, is the door’s imposition on our motion (and is objective).

The key passage in Kasey's post is this:

These poems do not "use" or "contain" images so much as they are images, images formed by language shaped into a "rested totality," as Zukofsky puts it. The attempt is to simulate the contours of a mental/perceptual experience through words, drawing on those words' referential function as well as the irrationally evocative sub-qualities of their morphemic and phonemic makeup (it is probably impossible not to do both at the same time in some proportion). The challenge facing the poet is then to translate a personal, subjective experience of language/reality into a textual message that will communicate itself, however incompletely, to another reader, by means other than simple reportage. This challenge is always doomed to at least partial failure...

This advances my understanding of poetry, philosophy and imagination. The step I want to take from here is to reject the challenge: why begin with "a personal, subjective experience" and then translate, convert or transform it into a "message" that can be "communicated" (though the phrase "that will communicate itself" indicates a bit of answer, an immediacy)?

To take two examples. Is there any (useful) sense in which "Message to the Department of the Interior" (Glenum) and "Social Life in Western North Carolina" (Mohammad) translate their authors' personal experiences of language/reality into messages that are then made more or less available to readers? It seems to me that these poems begin with the imagery already formed in an impersonal "outside". These poems will communicate as "imperfectly" with their creators as with any other reader, which is to say, they are perfectly, resolutely imaginary.

4 comments:

Presskorn said...

Hey, thank you for the reading at Athenenum tonight. I was in a hurry, so I couldnt't it say in person. I don't want say that it was 'interesting', since that is usually elliptical for 'it was crap', so I rather say: It was rather disturbing. PS: Ben Lerner is consequently on my birthday wish list. Etc. etc..

Presskorn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Presskorn said...

Wrote a more substancial comment above, but became unsatisfied with it in retrospect. I'll pick up the theme at another time.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Hi T., thanks. It looks like Ben's poems worked best the other night. (The bookstore sold the two copies of Angle of Yaw they had, I'm told, right after the reading.) I'll say a bit more about the reading on the weekend.

Actually, I was going to respond to that comment of yours. I got me thinking. But I'll wait til you restate it.

Drop by sometime if you're still in town.