Author’s Subtext: Poetry and Pornography
Writing this article was prompted by dialogue with a friend who recalled our earlier dialogues wherein we both agreed that there was no way to speak literally to these foundational issues regarding culture, outside of poetry. Her note included the following;
“To me inclusionality is a feeling of being in the flow; as you say, it’s the Tao – and the Tao that can be named is not the true Tao. … You or I (I forget which of us it was) once said that poetry was the only thing to get the Tao across – and probably haiku at that. Because real poetry sidles up on it sideways instead of trying to describe it exactly. That’s why your images of geese and fish and stormclouds and even cars on the freeway work, and mathematical or other descriptions don’t.”
But, at the same time, poetry can be pretty ambiguous, and even though most people love it, the world of the poetic and the world of rational prose go on unreconciled.
My thought was that there needs to be some ‘reconciliation’ here, and ideally, it should be done via poetry. But in a way, it is done in poetry [not in my article but ‘in poetry’] since poetry transcends rationality even though it includes it. In a sense, poetry is to rational literacy as the ground/ flow of the atmosphere is to the figure/form of the storm-cell. It is pure relation and neither ‘figure’ nor ‘ground’ on their own.
In other words, when we are in the thrall of poetry, there is no need to mess with rational literacy. But the opposite does not follow; i.e. when we are in the thrall of rational literacy (wearing our white lab coat) there is every need to invoke the poetic to break us out of our crows-eye objectifying-everything trance.
I thought back to reading not only about the words ‘The horror! The horror!’ uttered by Kurtz in his dying moment in Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ but about ‘the author’s subtext’, his numerous editings of the final pages, including that utterance, as is captures in Conrad’s correspondence with his editor, and to the poetic intent by Conrad who said that ‘in telling a story’, “you must cultivate your poetic faculty… you must search the darkest corners of your heart … for the image.”
An ‘Aboriginal Physics Newsletter’ with its pictures of storm-cells and other physical phenomena is not, on the surface, ‘telling a story’, and it is not ‘poetry’. But, at the same time, one can ‘touch the edge of darkness’ with the juxtapositioning of one’s phrases. Proceeding from the respected doctor examining the young girl and being aroused by it, and elsewhere, but not far away, suggesting that many dubious things are done ‘in the cause of education’. We know what the authority of the lab coat can do. Psychological studies of this effect testify to the darkness that this touches on.
Darkness comes out when there is an unspoken suggestion that a gang-rape can be compared to a biology lab, .. just inquisitive kids extending their education. Don’t we see it in the ‘films’, … ‘hey Fred, what happens if I pull the trigger on this shotgun while its pushing up against this guy’s testicles? … Oh, for goodness sake!…. where’s the paper towels….’
I don’t know about you, but this turns my stomach and not only do I not pay to go to films like that, I wouldn’t go if they paid me. That’s how intensely I try to avoid darkness.
But maybe because I choose not to ‘desensitize’ myself to it, and have to walk away from the TV when I get feeling nauseous while watching the news, that I feel ‘the horror’ in scenarios that might be innocuous to some. That is, I can feel the horror of ‘les sauvages’ when they realized what the civilized colonizing Europeans were bringing down on them. I feel it like a wave of sado-masochism, wherein they must submit or die.
Do I feel that our ‘Enlightenment society’ is sick and demented? Yes I do, but that doesn’t mean that I feel that the people that live within this Enlightenment society are sick and demented. It seems to me that we have made ourselves prisoner of acculturated habits that are an unnatural abomination and that, fortunately for us, we still have poetry within us even though it is not ‘officially recognized’ by our rationalist models of the world. Our Enlightenment society ‘belief system’, if we succumbed to it, as we contend it to be, would have us treat one another ‘objectively’ in the manner that historians describe how European colonizers (many of them) studied ‘les sauvages’ like they would study insects, dismembering women and children who happened nearby to test the sharpness of their swords.
Education is ultimately ‘good’ for all of humanity. In a documentary on the pioneering days of birth control pills, an international panel of doctors (all male) openly voiced the view that the profusion of deaths amongst the early ‘guinea pigs’ (poor women in Puerto Rico who were being paid for tests that they were told were perfectly safe), … was ‘a small price to be paid’ considering the enormous benefits to mankind that would accrue from population management’.
This ‘darkness’ in our Enlightenment society associates with a ‘lack of the poetic’ whereby we confuse representations of people as local, independently-existing organisms with their own locally originating behaviour’ for ‘reality’. Such clinical reality is ‘delusion’, but it is Enlightenment society’s ‘official reality’. It is a reality without ‘spirit’ and ‘spirit’ is visible to us when we resist ‘inverting the frame’ and leave intact the ‘conjugate habitat-inhabitant relation’; i.e. when we acknowledge that the dynamic of the habitat is in a natural primacy over the dynamics of the inhabitants, and that when and if we put the dynamics of the inhabitants into an unnatural primacy over the dynamics of the habitat (as in ‘Western civilization’, the official version), we give ourselves up to some ‘central council of lab-coated (rational) authorities’ who are going to advocate and launch rational initiatives such as war to achieve a greater good for all of humanity, saying that this end justifies the means. Then we wonder why there are rapes and massacres by our troops, why there is torture and perverted abuse of prisoners in Abu Gharaib and so on.
We advance from within the circle of enlightenment, by forcefully pushing its front out towards the darkness so as to dispel the darkness by bringing all that dwells there into our haloed circle. And why should we be concerned with those who linger on the dark side of the edge who do not run into the light when we invite them to do so? Enlightenment must rule, otherwise we shall all return to being savages. (Yes, and ‘if you’re not with us you’re against us’ and all that good stuff.)
Poetry and humour transcend a serious rational stark divisioning into ‘light and dark’, ‘good’ and ‘evil’, ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’, ‘educated’ and ‘uneducated’ and thus they are immune to the poisoning and conflict that can associate with it. They can deal with it ‘sideways’ in the manner that ‘harmony’ is a sideways way of dealing with the ‘opposites’ of ‘low’ and ‘high’ notes.
In any case, I have attempted, in the Poetry and Pornography ‘newsletter’ to deal with ‘darkness’ through a kind of ‘overt’ discussion of the relationship between the poetic and the pornographic.
In ‘Heart of Darkness’, Marlow travels from the heart of European Enlightenment civilization to meet Kurtz, now a living Lucifer in the heart of the dark underworld. There are some parallels in the journey of the lab-coated gynecologist to the merciless gang-rapist. In the broad sense that rational models can frame it, it is all ‘education’, ‘boys will be boys’. Wars are educational. The truth must win out, must it not, and Orwell has captured what that is. ‘War is peace’, ‘Slavery is freedom’ and ‘Ignorance is strength’.
As young men, almost everyone I knew ‘had a gynecologist in them’, and while much of the talk and graffiti suggested the objectifying of the female, humour and poetry prevailed in the actuality. Which amongst us was not stricken by the poetic ‘shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’, at which point we would turn away from lab coat authorized voyeurizing and probing and, now facing in the opposite direction, would become the courageous protectors of our loves’ virtue and liberty, raising our shining shields so that the dark intentions of others’ anticipated doings were refllected back as being done to them, putting fear in their hearts, as is the power of a poetic gaze (it is not ‘rational’).
Without being masters of the poetic, as Joseph Conrad was, … the author must leave much more up to the reader to induce in him/her a trip from his/her own lightness into darkness and back (and to recognize it as ‘one’) and, in this case, to relate it to such seeming abstraction as ‘the framing problem’ wherein we are faced with the issue of putting ‘inhabitant-dynamics’ in the primacy over ‘habitat-dynamics’ or vice versa. Yet, if the parallelisms do ‘come into confluent connection’, is it possible to see that, in the first case, we reduce the habitat to a passive ground containing nothing but local objects with their own local agency (‘competition’ and ‘conflict’ then seem inevitable), while in the latter case, “a mysterious principle of life must be assumed, which not only inhabits the organism, but makes the organism.”
Anyhow, this has been at attempt to provide some ‘author’s subtext’ that may add some further ‘meaning-dimensionality’ to ‘Poetry and Pornography’.
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