There is something to be said for someone like, say, John Ashbery with his linguistic ease.I think of my friend Amber who says that she is not afraid to do things such as flying in a plane. She says she is not afraid to go crazy because she does not see herself as a "solid" person but rather as someone fragmented and so when something strange happens she just "goes with it." People who see themselves as solid or whole, according to Amber, breakdown when they find that they are not. I am not surprised that Ashbery has lived a long time.
There is something morally disturbing about this though, isn't there? I mean, what counts as "something strange"? How do we distinguish this from when "something bad happens"? (Something that might make us less solid or whole.) Are there not times when we admire the "solid" person for their, say, courage, and when someone who "just goes with it" looks basically cowardly?
More formally, "not solid or whole" = "broken". So it's sort of tautological that someone who thinks himself whole "breaks down" in the discovery that he is, in fact, broken. But we'll never know what came first: finding that we are broken or the breaking itself.
My basic view is that good things make us more whole, bad things less so, and strange things are strange precisely in their ambiguity qua good/bad. "Just going with it" when things get strange has probably a 50/50 chance of breaking you down.
I don't think brokenness is a yes/no condition. We are not broken or whole, but more or less broken, more or less whole. So Amber's "people who see themselves as solid or whole" is a bit of a caricature, a straw man, and actually somewhat uncharitable. Are there really people who would be shaken by the mere possibility of their own imperfection? Well, perhaps. There are certainly people who overestimate their strength.
But there are just as certainly people who underestimate their strength and, to make matters worse, valorize their weakness as an "openness" to "strangeness" that "solid people" are unwilling or unable to face. Moral experience is a complicated matter. The important thing is that we do the best we can.
I'm reading Harold Bloom these days and am looking forward to getting to the part about Ashbery's "strong" poetry.