Saturday, February 20, 2010

R Kelly’s Heimlich Maneuver

Robert Kelly’s home page proposes that poetry is equal to “listening out loud.”  Recording the language in our head by pronouncing it or inscribing it.  This does not equal thinking.

“Most poets are too smart to believe in their own intelligence.” 

The resulting “lucid incomprehensibility” is the poet’s muse.  “The incomprehensible is the only thing that makes sense. That is, it creates sense -- the sense of something happening to you as you read.”

I might amend the optimism about most poets not believing in their own intelligence by inserting the word: “good.”

But what I find provocative here relates to what I’ve been trying to work out in poetics.  What is it that gives a poet a sense of belonging to her practice of poetry? And more basically, what is it that obligates a poet to think? 

A confrontation with the incomprehensible can indeed make one think, or create sense.  If we can acknowledge that thinking is never separate from feeling, which per Whitehead is the basis for all experience, than the use of the word “sense” or the process of making sense is inherent to thinking.

Here are two short bits from “Beauty Lies in the Eye” by Steve Shaviro that relate to the difference between the beautiful and the sublime:

29. As McMahon puts it, "the beautiful obliges us to think (its singularity poses a problem), without there being any concept for thought to settle on."

23. Kant also expresses this paradox as follows. The Beautiful leads to aesthetic Ideas, intuitions for which there are no adequate concepts. Whereas the Sublime leads to rational Ideas, concepts for which there are no adequate intuitions.

So it is the singularity recorded through the poet that can make us think.  Kelly’s homepage suggests that this singularity is essential to a poetic practice.  That is, poetry must include intuitions for which there is no adequate concept. 

One could easily write a book about how (so-called, often for good reasons) innovative poetry has had healthy doses of this beautiful singularity disorder.  And how, obversely mainstream or popular [double sic] poetics have been dominated by poets who are more likely to believe in their own intelligence.

I should leave this alone, but I’ll throw in one more proposition that I need to work through that is consonant with Kelly’s text, for which I am very grateful.

The proposition is that a poem is a record of the decisions that happen to a poet.  This only makes sense if you understand “decision” in the way that Whitehead uses it, where decisions are what happen to us and various other biological organisms.  Decisions make cognition possible, not the other way around.  “We don’t make decisions because we are free and responsible; rather we are free and responsible because – and precisely to the extent that – we make decisions.”  [Shaviro, Without Criteria, page 94]

p.s. Apologies for the image and the headline, which may be in bad taste: a pathetic leap from the idea of “home page” to the German word.  It did occur to me that the rap artist R Kelly uses the word “spit” more frequently than the Bard professor, who quite possibly was an early influence on the Beasty Boys.  In fact, it’s me that needs some sort of Heimlich maneuver to get myself to post more frequently on this blog.