Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Robert Bly

Robert Bly can kind of be laborious and boring (more frequently than not) but sometimes his criticisms are dead on. I'm reading Leaping Poetry, a new release from the University of Pittsburgh Press, where he talks about the history of the "leap" in poetry (which is often meant in a very tangible way and more often focuses on a leap in consciousness that has long been forgotten or berated in poetry, especially in America). There are translations, criticism, untranslated poems, etc. Anyhow, it's not terrific, but it's engaging and I'm enjoying it. And I thought this was interesting:

Obviously the ethical ideas of Christianity inhibit [the leap]. Christianity has been against the leap. Christian ethics always embodied a move against the "animal instincts"; Christian thought, especially Paul's thought, builds a firm distinction between spiritual energy and animal energy, a distinction so sharp it became symbolized by black and white. White became associated with the conscious and black with the unconscious. Christianity taught its poets - we are among them [as Americans] - to leap away from the unconscious, not toward it.

The intellectual Western mind accepted the symbolism of white and black, and far from trying to unite both in a circle, as the Chinses did, tried to get "apartheid." In the proces, some weird definition of words developed.

If a European avoided the animal instincts and consistently leaped away from the unconscious, he was said to be living in a state of "innocence." Children were though to be "innocent" because it was believed they had no sexual, that is, animal, instincts. Eighteenth-century translators like Pope and Dryden forced Greek and Roman literature to be their allies in their leap away from animality, and they translated Homer as if he too were "innocent." To Christian Europeans, impulses open to the sexual instincts or animal instincts indicated a fallen state, a state of "experience."

It's an interesting distinction to trace throughout history. He starts at Beowulf and begins to dissect how the Western writers lost the instinct for the leap through Christianity while many nations writers' did not. This segue-ways nicely, and quite literally, into William Blake's rebellious poems The Songs of Innocence and Experience.

This all leads into modern writer's who are trying to, or have, bring the leap back into the mentality of Western readers. He points out a lack of interest in the Spanish poets by non-academic writers and how this lead to other countries becoming interested in this literary move while America did not. He also points out that in some ways American poets were interested in this through their interest in the French Surrealists like Breton, yet this movement is now, oddly, looked upon with disdain by many contemporary critics and poets, it has fallen out of favor, but it's influence is largely unnoted.

It's an interesting book. I'll through in one more quote that utilizes Neruda's use of the leap to illustrate further what exactly Bly is trying to point out in this collection:

In "Nothing but Death" Neruda leaps from death to the whiteness of flour, then to notary publics, and he continues to make leap after leap. We often feel elation reading Neruda because he follows some arc of association which corresponds to the inner life of the objects; so that anyone sensitive to the inner life of objects can ride iwth him. The links are not private, but somehow bound into nature.

1 comment:

ryan manning said...

ultimately life-affirming