Monday, June 2, 2008

Some versions of conceptual

After contemplating the canon-formation of conceptual poetry this weekend, I happened to pick up Matthew Bevis's new book, Some Versions of Empson and came across Adam Piette's essay, "Empson, Piaget, and Child Logic," which is more interesting and pertinent than you'd guess from the title; among other things, it's about writing poetry during war-time.

Anyhow, Piette quotes WE on the development of the construction of semantic meanings:

"I am assuming that we build such words [as sense and sensibility] by a primitive, or anyway not specifically logical, process of thought, and I must be careful to avoid saying that this makes the thought expressed by them necessarily fallacious."


"... feeling is not merely primitive or illogical, indeed, it keeps us in contact with reality"

(both from The Structure of Complex Words, 252 and 318, respectively)

Piaget, Piette observes,

"helped Empson to understand childish notions and thought process as logical in ways that precede the laws and norms of adult logic, the socializing conventions of which assimilate individual feelings and senses into classifiable and normative points of view. A poet who isolates himself from the world can reclaim the powers of observation and sensitivity to the world as filled with forces that are foundationally necessary for any possible resistance to and influence upon standardizing culture. Such isolation retrieves an individual point of view, countering culture's power to dissolve individual thought into its own machinery of coordinated points of view.

What is interesting in Empson's strategic use of Piaget is the urgency about self-protectiveness and childish logic in the run-up to wartime. If points of view are likely to be dissolved in ordinary culture, then how much more so in the perceived propagandized machine of wartime government. If selflessness is necessary in defending the nation at war, then it becomes even more important to preserve this specific mode of the imagination (not an escapist but a transductive point of view) as that which the nation ought to be defending it if is to count as a free nation worth defending. Such egocentricity and magical illusion may be accused of infantilism and escapism, but in its Alice [in Wonderland] form can equally generate an artificial identity which preserves the poet's power to observe and satirize, power to influence a madly warring culture, to make that culture acknowledge this vital point about its own secret best interests: located in the child's point of view, preserved into adulthood in the poet's credences and benign imagination. " (53)

What's missing, as far as I can tell, from so-called conceptual poetry is the transductive, which is disbelieved in, apparently. Oh, well: the chief difficulty even Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo...


Ms Baroque said...

This is wonderful. I don't know much about conceptual poetry - that is, I don't think I do, or do I? But I do know about trying to manage your flamingo.

I'm interested in the idea that the "Alice mode" "...can generate an artificial identity which preserve's the poet's power to observe and satirize" - interesting in a wartime model but thus, by extension, lends itself to analagous conflict situations.

It seems to me that the way we live today, in these conceptualised (there!) urban rat-runs - filling in forms, calling call centres, getting stuck in traffic, doing our appraisals at work, listening to the buzz from other people's ipods, minding our politically-correct p's and q's - it seems to me that this raises many of the same panic/mass thought/personal identity issues as wartime.

And of course, in our commodification of children, their reading matter and the idea of chil;dhood itself, we have lost that Alice feeling...

Which of course means that yes! The word needs us!

Michael Gushue said...

Well, this squashed things together in my head that had not been adjacent before.

If transductive has something to do with the thingness of things, the stuff in front of you without abstraction or generalization, then it has to be outside the sphere of conceptual poetry to start with.

Don Share said...

Excellent point, Michael.