Non Fiction

Locating Dislocation

There is a problem with contemporary poetry, a problem that intrinsically stems from the issue of bewilderment. Poets and humans in general, don’t just feel lost, but disconnected from the world by being fractured in time and space. I understand and can relate to the idea of bewilderment, or the status that is prevalent in contemporary, (some would say post-modern) poetry, of being in relation to awareness of the Other. This quest is a vicious cycle. Searching for what cannot be found through words or even reality leads to confusion and the debasement of poetry itself. I believe that poetry needs a mast, one which will inherently guide the boat of the mind by the winds of emotion and thought. This is in contrast to the trend of scattered bursts of a faulty mechanical propeller. Poetry can be natural without having to be confined to the constraints of nature.

Poetry is inherently personal. This is even if the poem is detached, even if the voice is third-person omnipresent. The problem of being everywhere and every-when at once is one that Fanny Howe analyzes in her poetic and philosophical essay entitled Bewilderment. In introducing her poetics to the reader, Howe begins to explain how the characters in her fiction make her feel, as beings completely apart from her own construct and mind. Howe relates this concept to her poetry as well, and claims that the relation correlates in that she has to confront the same problem in expressing her thoughts on reality through the words she writes on the page. “I would have to say that something like the wave and the particle theories troubled the poetics of my pages: how can two people be in two places simultaneously and is there any relationship between imagination and character?” Howe reconciles this problem for herself by ending her essay with an oxymoron exclaiming that art is supposed to prove that life is worth living by expressing that it isn’t. Fanny Howe’s quest ends in a full, bloody circle.

However, poetry doesn’t have to be cyclical in order for it to stretch the limitations of conventional thought. Writing is an interpretation of life. And even though life in the 21st century is fragmentary and deterritorialized by the digitalization of even the most mundane aspects of life, (think checking your smartphone for the weather before going outside instead of looking at an analog thermometer, or even physically going outdoors to feel the temperature) the poet mustn’t succumb to the current poetic trend of expressing their perception of the world through detached mechanical incoherence. Yes, using technology may seem more accurate, and reporting on different perspectives of characters is difficult when not being able to convey multiple existences simultaneously, but attempting to express the ontologically inexpressible too often results in contradiction, and ultimately nihilism. This is what Fanny Howe does in Bewilderment.

Gabrielle Calvocoressi approaches bewilderment differently in her poem, Late Twentieth Century in the Form of Litany. This poet confronts the fragmentation of expression in a seemingly cyclical sense, because of her repetition of “I thought I heard voices.” Calvocoressi even ends her poem with the line “Over and Over I thought I heard voices”, which could be construed as a form of admission to mechanical detachment. And yet there is a clear progression in this litany that leads the reader from thinking about the character’s possible auditory hallucinations to knowing the voice’s source when the poet breaks from repetition. “Mother took all the pills and I looked at the clock.” Through this line alone, Calvocoressi locates the source of bewilderment.

6 replies on “Locating Dislocation”

I agree, we are focussing on different aspects of the same thing. You are applying creativity, I am analyzing it. But our activities overlap. The analytical work on the meta-level requires creativity in turn, and as a poet, you will also enter the meta-level and reflect on what you are doing and this will modify what you are doing.

I don’t have the adequate time to write an appropriate response to this comment, as it is an essay in and of itself. I really enjoyed reading and thinking about your response and how my piece resonated with you. It’s interesting because I think we both are looking at the same coin, but different sides of it i.e. you more in the philosophical sense, and I more in poetics. I’ll get back to you on this once I have the chance. Thank you for your engaging comment.

Your article causes my thoughts to “resonate”. I am not sure if my thoughts match what you are describing here, but let me share them.

The German philosopher Helmuth Plessner in his philosophical anthropology described the defining trait of human existence as “eccentric positionality“, the ability of our minds to stand outside of itself and observe itself as if from the outside. The direct, unquestioned experience that animals might have (Plessner speaks of “centric positionality” of animals) can therefore always be broken.
I think one can describe what Plessner calls eccentric positionality as reflexivity of thinking. This reflexivity enables us to question and then change our views and actions, but it destroys consistency and causes our thinking and culture to be historical. I see it as the main source of creativity since it enables us to change ourselves, but it makes us indefinitely complex. This is what I thought about when reading the title “Locating Dislocation”.

Our culture has become completely reflexive by removing all bounds of ideology or other fixed systems. The “debasement” is, I think, a necessary result of the total reflexivity our thinking has arrived at. But I think this reflexivity is at the basis of our creativity (creativity understood as the ability to break out of any fixed scheme). The ability to create ever new things entails the bewildering complexity and the impossibility of a total unification of all phenomena into a single system (resulting in the theoretical and methodological pluralism that comes under the term “postmodern”). So bewilderment may be the back side of the coin of creativity. Creativity and Incompleteness belong together. Creativity in this sense also makes us historical and individual. There are no fixed laws of thinking.

I don’t believe there is a natural basis of poetry. The mast can only be set by you yourself in a deliberate act, but it is something like the rules of a game or a harmony scheme in a style of music, artificial like everything else in the human being, something that is fixed only as long as you decide not to change it. It defines the game as long as you decide to play it.

Absolutely she can quote it. This was in response to the poet who runs my workshop asking for a brief essay on poetics in relation to Fanny Howe and a few contemporary poets that we read.

Sean, this is one of your best articles, and one of the best on Post Modernism that I’ve seen. I attended a presentaion by Scholars specializing in German Idealism and German Romanticism,with the particular emphasis focused one the Philosophy of Schelling. One of the Philosophers, in a criticism of the of the Post Modernist Authur Danto said, “Arthur Danto’s whole Philosophy consists of telling people that they don’t know what to do.”

Alexander Marshall

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