Tuesday, January 23

Usufruct: A tattered coat upon a stick

Moby Dick, Ricciardelli
From rebella

Been reading a good biography of the poet Charles Olson. He first caught my attention with his book on Melville and Moby Dick, Call Me Ishmael. That book opened up Moby Dick for me in a new way: when I re-read (for the 3rd time) the book immediately after, it was a bright and shining thing for me. Olson showed me a form a primary critique – what he calls “usufruct”.

I have always had a problem with criticism in that it is such a parasitic act - needing the the primary artifact of a creator upon which to enact its own "creation". Better to respond to a work of art with another work of art - as Vergil critiqued Homer with the Aeneid, as Dante critiqued Vergil with the Commedia. (cf. Steiner's Real Presences)

I always wonder why so many are satisfied with secondary critique - even extending this to a way of life. They would rather have their information "digested" for them like helpless birdlings in nests of ignorance. They prefer processed pabulum over the whole and the raw and the "right from the earth". I find it bizarre that people place so much faith in what the media(tors) give them; that they have never read even a portion of the Bible or the Koran or Moby-Dick or the Constitution; that they have never had even a slight conversation with a homeless person, a monk, a priest, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a criminal.

It is astounding how sheltered and insulated most are from the Primary. And yet, I have the fear of becoming like one of them. As time goes on and I go on in it, I feel the mounting pressures of conformity, of habituation, of desensitization. Every day seems more and more the same. And the disciplines one practices to hold on the face-to-face seem to be increasingly absurd. Why not just give in? It would be so easy.

Yeats wrote of difficulties brought about through the awareness of having an eternal spirit tied to the body of a dying animal. I think of a balloon tied to the tail of a old dog. Most of my days have been "spent" in the attempt to grasp that balloon. But I must admit the fear, the cold wet first thing in the morning fear, of how good settling into these bones feels, to ignoring the balloon, the spirit and coming to terms with the fact that I will live out the remainder of my days as a stupid dying animal.

Sailing to Byzantium

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees -
Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

-- William Butler Yeats

What always saves me is the Mystery - the continual, as yet unsolvable allegory that I have involved myself in. Call it God, Allah, Nirvana, Samadhi, Atman, Real Presence, Ishmael, a White Whale or a Red Ballon - it is what keep these bones burning.