Poetry and Pornography: Inversion that elicits perversion
What could the link possibly be between ‘poetry’ and ‘pornography’?
Imagine that ten different people were asked to make a movie that portrayed life in a small mountain village. What variants on this theme might emerge, and why?
‘Life’ is a four-letter word that can take on many different meanings; i.e. we can impute many different meanings to this little choo-choo train of abstract symbols that mean nothing in themselves, with the engine ‘L’ pulling them along and the caboose ‘e’ pulling up the rear.
Should we start the film with a helicopter shot of the morning sun lighting up the peaks of the mountains (majestic classical music in the background, with horns and tympanums, perhaps a soprano voice), the morning light descending down the verdant slopes to lift away the darkness that obscures, to reveal the village nesting comfortably in the mothering embrace of the nurturing landscape. In this ‘framing’ there is the sense that the sun has descended zillions of times into this valley to illuminate the continuously unfolding dynamic cyclically obscured by night’s shadow, and each time it descends, it illuminates the new page in the unfolding story, perhaps the birth of little charles, … perhaps the death of old charlie.
Is this ‘life’?
Or should we start the film down in the dark of the bedroom with some steamy passionate ‘action’. As Ashley lifts the heavy muscular arm of her now-sleeping lover and gets up to take a pee, she sees the glint of the first light of day on Doug’s yellow pickup parked in the driveway and she gasps. But it is too late, the early risers in the village will see it too, including her husband Lorne’s brother and sister-in-law just down the street, who had been her visitors the night before, joining with her in sharing their concern’s about Lorne’s safety in his six-month assigment in Afhganistan.
Is this ‘life’?
There is a question of ‘framing’ or ‘context’ in these two approaches that recalls the ‘inversion’ between the poetic and the rational.
Ashley is a beautiful girl. As the film’s producer, shall we ‘indulge’ in savouring her ‘beauty’, taking our voyeurizing lens, the parasite of the visible, close in to see the fine form of her breasts, zooming in further to cruise the large brown aureoles that then draw our focus to erect protruding nipples, moving on down to her perfectly proportioned thighs whose movements correlate imperfectly but elastically and as they must with the gentle heaving of the shapely tanned dunes that back them up, form within form writhing in ensemble in amazing harmony as if orchestrated by the agonizing passion than animates her beautiful and, yes, angelic, face.
The deer and bear in the forested slopes above the village are far beyond the cinematic framing now, the mountain goat, standing sentinel over the village, well above the tree line on the rocky, snow-covered banks of a rushing stream, brim-filled with spring snow-melt, that yesterday filled the pitcher that now sits on Ashley’s bedside table, is ‘out of the picture’ now.
The ‘visual frame’ is indeed a powerful interpreter of ‘life’.
What more can we say about ‘Ashley’? Should we show the empty wine bottles on the floor beside the bed? Should we show the discarded needles in the bathroom wastebasket? And, then pan back with the close-up lens to show the age-wrinkles at the corners of Ashley’s eyes that we removed in the sepia lighting of the lover’s embrace?
What did Shakespeare say? –Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
But didn’t he also say, in the same ‘breath’; But thy eternal summer shall not fade Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
‘Ashley’ tears our hearts apart, she pulls on us from two seemingly opposing directions. Should we, as movie makers, ‘frame her’ so as to bring out her local physical self and her ‘local agency’, ‘what she does’, … or should we ‘frame her’ as a child of the dynamic space she is born into and moves within, a unique and particular child whose form and actions derive from her unique and particular situational inclusion in the continuously unfolding world dynamic? How should we ‘understand’ Ashley?
Perhaps the question is; ‘how should we ‘frame’ Ashley?
Indeed, how should we frame ‘life’ in general? In a figure-and-ground context, is the ‘ground’ the source of the dynamic or is the ‘figure’ the source of the dynamic?
This ‘cell’ is the ‘result’ of what goes on in the world, it is not the ’cause’ of what goes on in the world. What troubles our understanding is that we can only see ‘the things that author actions’ while the ‘actions that author things’ is invisible.
This ‘problem’ that troubles our understanding has been long pondered by philosophers and poets. Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of these ‘hybrids’ and in ‘The Method of Nature’ he writes about something that ‘inhabits’ the ‘organ’ or ‘organism’;
“The method of nature: who could ever analyze it? That rushing stream will not stop to be observed. We can never surprise nature in a corner; never find the end of a thread; never tell where to set the first stone. The bird hastens to lay her egg: the egg hastens to be a bird. The wholeness we admire in the order of the world, is the result of infinite distribution. Its smoothness is the smoothness of the pitch of the cataract. Its permanence is a perpetual inchoation. Every natural fact is an emanation, and that from which it emanates is an emanation also, and from every emanation is a new emanation. If anything could stand still, it would be crushed and dissipated by the torrent it resisted, and if it were a mind, would be crazed; as insane persons are those who hold fast to one thought, and do not flow with the course of nature. Not the cause, but an ever novel effect, nature descends always from above. It is unbroken obedience. The beauty of these fair objects is imported into them from a metaphysical and eternal spring. In all animal and vegetable forms, the physiologist concedes that no chemistry, no mechanics, can account for the facts, but a mysterious principle of life must be assumed, which not only inhabits the organ, but makes the organ.”
But, as our own movie producers that seek to ‘interpret’ the dynamics of life, we can frame things in the manner of the ‘unromantic’ physiologist, peering and poking and prodding the object of our scrutiny as if everything that we could ever come to know about it resided within it and within its actions.
When we ‘frame’ our movie this way, we ‘invert’ the sourcing of the action, imputing it to come from within the local organism rather than from the dynamical space in which the transient dynamical form is situationally included.
This sort of framing is a ‘slippery slope’ since it re-presents everything that is around us in terms of passive background that ‘we move through’ and which either resists us or allows us to exploit it. When we forget that the storm-cell is the result rather than the cause of turbulence in the ‘frame’ it is included in, we begin to speak in such terms as ‘Ashley is feeding on the warm waters in the Gulf and building her strength.’, … ‘Ashley is moving north towards the Louisiana coast’, … ‘Ashley is wreaking destruction on the City of New Orleans’, … ‘Ashley is weakening.’, .. ‘Ashley is dissipating’.
But ‘Ashley’ is not a ‘local thing in her own right’. Instead, “a mysterious principle of life must be assumed, which not only inhabits the organism, but makes the organism.”
Poets would accept this but not all scientists are poets and since the arrival of Western Enlightenment society which has accepted the substituting of ‘representations’ (maps, drawings and later photographs) as ‘reliable substitutes for the visible’ (Kunze), there has been a tendency to confuse the inversion that imputes authorship or ‘local agency’ to ‘localizing’ representations of things for reality. In the process, the habitat becomes seen as a ‘passive landscape’ with all original action being attributed to the ‘representations’ of the ‘localized’ ‘organisms’ included in the habitat. The habitat is no longer the source of action, the sourcing now belongs to the ‘local’ organisms that inhabit it, at least in the confused thinking of this inverted framing.
In other words, the poet in us is replaced by the logician or rationalist who builds his logical constructs on the back of notional ‘local objects’ that possess ‘their own local agency’.
Let’s go back to our film production again, after having put on our white lab coat. Let’s take our voyeur lens in close to examine Ashley at age five. If she spreads her legs we can get a good look at those parts that are normally obscured so that we can become more knowledgeable about them, and if we probe them, we can see her responses and document these for an article in the medical journals. There are many experiments we could perform on Ashley and these are ok, because they are in the interests of improving our knowledge. These rights to stare and prod and probe come with our wearing of the white lab coats. Anything that happens ‘in life’ becomes fair game for our camera lens if our purpose is ‘to better understand’. It is not that we actually have to participate in what we observe in order to learn about it. Others can be there with the camera and we can simply have access to their research. The gynaecologist can’t help it if he is aroused as he explores the attractive young woman’s body, opening her vulva and probing into her vagina with his fingers, experiments that were ok for him and the little girl next door to pursue ‘just for fun’ and that excited him when he was five years old. Education is something we pursue very seriously and in a very structured fashion. In our belief system, the ‘goodness’ that is innate in ‘education’ must prevail over the emotions that come bundled in with it its pursuit. How else can we push back the frontier of darkness with the illumination of knowing and understanding? White lab coats can be dangerous.
Do we not have to probe along the frontiers where the light of what we know and understand meets the darkness of what we don’t know and don’t understand?
Western man prides himself on being a master of his habitat, of being able to domesticate all that which he finds himself situationally included in. Collateral damage is unavoidable in this undertaking, but it is for a good cause, the cause of the ‘advance of civilization’.
In Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’, the habit of white colonizers shooting natives, and anything else that moved, in the bush along the banks of the Congo, is made note of. This is part of the learning process as the early pioneers in civilizing the wilderness drive ever deeper into the heart of darkness, whether this be by way of riverboats into the jungle or trains running into the wild interior of the Americas, wherein the civilization in the interior of the coaches abutted abruptly with the uncivilized wildness of the exterior.
In the picture above, early western ‘bringers of civilization’ to the wilderness undertook the same sort of probing at the edge where enlightenment meets darkness, in their encounter with savages and wild animals such as the buffalo.
The savages of Turtle Island (the island which has come to be known as ‘the Americas’), the traditionalists among them (perhaps 5%), have been stuck in the Emerson mode of framing wherein they see themselves, the dynamic-inhabitants as being the results of the habitat-dynamic rather than the other way ‘round’. The rest (the ‘co-opted?) have come to accept ‘civilization’, which implies that the inhabitant-dynamics are the source of the habitat-dynamics. In the beginning of colonization they were horrified when they found slaughtered buffalo lying on the plains, still with hides and flesh intact. Who could be guilty of such wanton taking of life? For those who understand ‘life’ in terms of being a strand in the web of life, it is natural to have respect for all strands in the interdependent web. So to the savage, to take the life of another was often inevitable in the course of sustaining balance and continuance in the interdependent web, but to take a life of another in the interests of advancing one’s personal frontier of knowledge, was sacrilege.
Is the buffalo truly a locally-existing organism with its own local agency? As movie-makers, we can certainly ‘frame it’ that way. And when we do, there is none of this superstitious hocus-pocus about ‘strands-in-the-web-of-life’. Why not ‘call a spade a spade’; A buffalo is a buffalo is a buffalo! … period, … full stop. Or as Charles Dickens wrote in Hard Times, in the scene where Sissy Jupe, who has a romantic notion of a horse, encounters the scientific literalism of her teacher Thomas Gradgrind, it can be established, firmly and rigidly, and every student should know, that a horse is; ‘Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.’
We can frame our ‘Ashley’ in the same way, though we can be a lot more sophisticated and subtle in doing so, using our roving camera lens to titillate the voyeurism in the viewer until he is more than willing to pay the price of entry, having already been already equipped with passport to see whatever he would like to see, that is in support of education and in moving the frontiers of his personal knowledge, his halo of enlightenment, further in the direction of the ‘heart of darkness’. Erotic arousal is a ‘small price to pay’ for one’s ‘further education’.
As we move our cameras in, in this direction, we must remember to don our white lab coats which authorize us to proceed for the purpose of education, to advance the illuminated ground of knowing further in towards the ‘heart of darkness’. In this undertaking, we must arm ourselves against superstitions such as the Emersonian notion of “a mysterious principle of life [that ] must be assumed, which not only inhabits the organism, but makes the organism.”
There is no such principle in our Western Enlightenment society belief system, and there is thus no need to ‘do like the savage’ and say a prayer of respect to Wakan Tonka, ‘the Great Mystery’ that underlies the continuing creation, as we forge ahead with our inquiry.
If the darkness of the ‘wilderness’ is to be lifted and the wildness ‘domesticated’ so that civilization can be installed as the dominant and prevailing form of organisation, we can’t let the superstitions of uncivilized savages stand in our way.
Many strange things go on in this ‘world of ours’ and we must learn all about them if we are going to strive to make ‘the world our oyster’ as is imputed to be ‘a universal civil right’. In fact, this ‘learning’ provides us with a ‘framing strategy’ for our movie-making. The ‘strange things that people do’ seems to beckon to us and to bring forth our voyeurism, to the point that the ‘poetic spirit that ‘not only inhabits the organism but makes the organism’ is entirely obscured.
The ‘poetic Ashley’ that is ‘the result of the habitat dynamic’ can only be seen if we explore the habitat-dynamic as if it is primary, and allow it to give context to her emergence and the formation of her persona by way of her unique situational inclusion within it. She can be be seen as being implied by the web of relationships whose centre she is situated with. The web is not a radiated halo of her own making. When all of the strands dance, she must dance, though her dance can serve the cultivating of harmony in a manner that is entirely her own.
The ‘rationally-known Ashley’ that is understood as a ‘local organism with her own local agency’ inverts the meaning of ‘who she is’ so that her ‘local, independently-existing self’ with its own locally sourced ‘inhabitant-dynamic’ is imputed to be primary while the dynamics of the habitat, as must then follow, are understood as the result of a diverse multiplicity of ‘local, independent inhabitants’ with their own ‘local inhabitant-dynamics’ such as hers. In this ‘inverted framing’, ‘civilization’ takes over from ‘nature’.
That is, Western civilization depends on its framing of things in such a manner that the dynamics of the inhabitants is imputed to prevail over the dynamics of the habitat, so that the ‘wildness’ of the wilderness will continue to be domesticated and kept down. ‘Heaven forbid’, we say, that organisation that prevailed in the era of the uncivilized savages should be allowed, like crab-grass, to take over the neatly trimmed garden of our Western Enlightenment society.
Or might we be mistaken in this ‘fear of wildness’?
Dissidents seem to have included Marx and Engels and also Thomas Jefferson, a ‘founding fathers’ of the United States; e.g;
“To Engels, Morgan’s description of the Iroquois [in Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society and The League of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois] was important because “it gives us the opportunity of studying the organization of a society which, as yet, knows no state.” Jefferson had also been interested in the Iroquois’ ability to maintain social consensus without a large state apparatus, as had Franklin. Engels described the Iroquoian state in much the same way that American revolutionaries had a century earlier: “Everything runs smoothly without soldiers, gendarmes, or police, without nobles, kings, governors, prefects or judges; without prisons, without trials. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the whole body of those concerned. . . . The household is run communistically by a number of families; the land is tribal property, only the small gardens being temporarily assigned to the households — still, not a bit of our extensive and complicated machinery of administration is required. . . . There are no poor and needy. The communistic household and the gens know their responsibility toward the aged, the sick and the disabled in war. All are free and equal — including the women. “ — Bruce E. Johansen, Forgotten Founders
The notion of the uncivilized savages (les sauvages, the ‘wild ones’), that man and all things are bound up in an intrinsic ‘conjugate habitat-inhabitant relation’, has always stood in the way of western civilization as it (western civilization) uses education to shine a light on things and to push ever more deeply into the heart of darkness.
As one of the descendents of ‘les sauvages’ who is currently law professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts (Peter D’Errico) observes http://www.umass.edu/legal/derrico/nowyouseeit.html ;
“Another Columbus Day has come and gone. Another year, now more than 500 since the Pope divided the world between Spain and Portugal, laying down the doctrine of discovery and conquest:
INTER CAETERA, MAY 3, 1493 — “Among other works well pleasing to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this assuredly ranks highest, that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself. … [O]ur beloved son Christopher Columbus, … sailing … toward the Indians, discovered certain very remote islands and even mainlands … . [W]e, … by the authority of Almighty God … do … give, grant, and assign forever to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castille and Leon, all and singular the aforesaid countries and islands … “
An earlier Papal Bull had declared the legitimacy of Christian domination over “pagans,” sanctifying enslavement and expropriation of property:
ROMANUS PONTIFEX, JANUARY 8, 1455 — ” … [W]e bestow suitable favors and special graces on those Catholic kings and princes, … athletes and intrepid champions of the Christian faith … to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and … to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate … possessions, and goods, and to convert them to … their use and profit … “
We might look at these ancient documents with amusement or condescension, confident in the modern view that church and state are separate. This would be a mistake. These Papal Bulls are part of the fabric of United States and international law. “
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In this framing, we see the granting of the ‘civilized’ to themselves, the rights to forcefully move the frontiers of civilization deeper towards the ‘heart of darkness’ so that the entire world might be illuminated by ‘the true knowledge and understanding’.
It leaves no doubt as to the imputed need for the dominating primacy of ‘inhabitant-dynamics’ over ‘habitat-dynamics’, whether or not this must be established by force, as part of man’s imputed ‘struggle against the wildness of nature’ (the nature which bore him?!).
As movie makers, this ‘civilized’ ‘framing’ orientation would have us start our filming in the ‘councils of the wise, the holders of the true understanding and their followers’, who understand themselves to be local organisms with their own local agency; i.e. to be the sole authors of their own locally originating behaviour driven and directed by their internal purpose and instincts, including the ‘universal knowledge of good and evil’.
Framing our movie thus, the habitat is forcibly reduced to a secondary role (insofar as the mental impressions delivered by our movie), and the ‘poetic’ with its inverted framing is cast aside as ‘superstition’ of the same type as arises in the curious myths and traditional beliefs of ‘les sauvages’, who stubbornly refuse to agree that the dynamics of the inhabitants arise from within the inhabitants, contending instead that the inhabitants and their dynamics are the result of the habitat dynamics; i.e. that the habitat and the inhabitant are in conjugate relation, much as given by the principle of relativity of Ernst Mach; ‘The dynamics of the habitat condition the dynamics of the inhabitants at the same time as the dynamics of the inhabitants are conditioning the dynamics of the habitat’. This would appear to be one of those ‘spooky poetic thoughts’ that must have come to Mach when he had turned his lab coat in for laundering.
So, what stops us from voyeurizing others as if they were local objects? We know that the European ‘bringers of civilization’ to Africa educated themselves by probing and poking around at the frontiers so as to push forward the advancing front of illumination in the direction of the heart of darkness; i.e. by rape, torture, mass-murder and slave-taking if necessary, so that the illuminated civilization behind them and ‘away from the edge’ of that advancing front came to look pretty appealing to those on the darkside edge of the advancing front.
But what stops us, civilized people that we are, from groping the young woman opposite, from gang-raping her; e.g. as in the following incident of October 30, 2009;
“At a homecoming dance at Richmond High School (in the same district as the middle school stoning), a fifteen-year-old girl was beaten and gang-raped for over two hours while a crowd [at least two dozen] from the dance watched, laughed, clapped and photographed the scene. No one called the cops. The girl was left unconscious, dumped under a bench. She had to be airlifted to a specialty hospital.”
To compare this to ‘the action of wild animals’ would do a disservice to ‘wild animals’. Is there not a poetic aspect to nature that is inborn in all things, that makes such acts unthinkable (never coming to mind)? It’s not that we are held back by the ‘universal knowledge of good and evil’; i.e. by our ‘civilized values’. The poetic factor, where we frame things ‘the other way’ seems to want to rise naturally to dominance. as where we see/feel ourselves the children of a common habitat, imbued with a mysterious principle of life that somehow connects us all. Is this poetic quality not manifest in our resistance to believing, ‘literally and wholly’, in rational, educated views such as that of Thomas Gradgrind’s in Dickens’ ‘Hard Times’?
Poetry is surely the antidote for pornography. But it won’t come to us so long as we insist on wearing our lab coats. Where/when we feel the lab coat authorizing us to defrock the pretty young maiden standing before us, in the manner that it authorizes us to rip the wings from a butterfly, so that we might extend the radius of our halo of educated illumination, outward and inward towards the heart of darkness, we must recognize that it is not a coat of authorization but a straitjacket that has been suppressing our natural wildness, our poetic aspect, and rip it off before it drives us to self-destruction.
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