2.17.2009

1.6180339887... (an Irrational Number)

Have been puzzling inconclusively all morning about how this concept of mediation and proportion applies practically to poetry, & what we do with that.

There's something there, but I haven't quite got at it yet.

Thinking about "dynamic symmetry", a term introduced about a hundred years ago to refer to artistic applications of the Golden Section. The Golden Section, or Golden Ratio : pervasive in ancient/classical art and architecture, due to its comparable pervasiveness in nature (geometry of seashells, sunflowers, the human body, etc.), and also to its curious "dynamic" spatial applications. (It's the mathematical ratio derived when you divide any space into two unequal parts, such that the ratio or proportion of the smaller part to the larger part, equals the ratio of the larger part to the space as a whole. See Wikipedia entry for details.)

What if we imagined some kind of equivalent ratio of symmetry/design in poetry. Not necessarily numerical (such as applying the Fibonacci series to line-counts, etc. - which has been done...). Rather a more abstract concept, some kind of harmonic synthesis. What would be a "ratio of equilibrium" between, say, the medium & the message - such that both medium & message interpenetrate in a dynamic, expansive, resonant way?

Again, I think about this notion of a convergence of opposites. Say the poem is the offspring (& the poet the midwife) of the union of nature & art. So we have these relatively free-standing, integral objects (each with its own internal gyroscope). They are not necessary, in the sense of utilitarian, functional : but they are necessary (if literature is necessary at all) in the sense of invitations to wholeness, awareness, growth, joy, freedom...

A. Pushkin, in a line addressed to his fellow poets, cries : "Ye Sons of Harmony!" (Let's revise that to : Sons & Daughters.) Resonance...

One could gaze Pythagoras-like for a long time into this abyss of harmonic ratios, of mediating proportions. In a cosmos of binary pairs, what is it, exactly, that binds together black/white, night/day, up/down, near/far, joy/sorrow...? The logos or ratio finds affinities : brings unexpected, contrary, seemingly incommensurate things into relationship (harmony). We think of this as the essential process of reason, the intellect itself. What is a metaphor, but the discovery of a previously unseen perceptual or cognitive "rhyme"?

Maybe we start to get a glimpse of the underlying, formative process of poetic making - always devising new wholes (works of art) out of these harmonic discoveries (of things brought into proportionate relationship).

These ideas seem again awfully vague & abstract. But I'm thinking about how they might somehow apply in more specific evaluations. The difference, say, between an indifferent jumble of words, anecdotes, statements, emotions, catch phrases, cliches or undigested imitations, on the one hand - & an integrated whole : a real synthesis of working parts, a new discovery, an intense and unforgettable summation.

5 comments:

Joseph Duemer said...

Quick response: When someone like Silliman or Inger Christensen use the Fibonacci series to organize a poetic text (not that these two poets are necessarily doing the same thing), aren't they making an ontological claim about the status of the poem? Saying that it is an object in nature like any other object? That it is a thing, not a representation of a thing? This is why Matthew's earlier insistence on an imperfect relationship between poem and world strikes me as so important. It is that vein of imperfection that interests me as a poet!

J.H. Stotts said...

the difficulty of poetry should have a threshold effect--that it demands internalization in order to reveal the full dimensions of its logic, or wisdom, or metaphor, or whatever it should be called.
this is where there is a good argument to be made for a ratio or correlation between difficulty (or distance, or the conjunction of opposites) and music (or harmony).
that is, the mnemonic/lyric qualities facilitate the internalization--poems should be carried around in one's head, not because they give pleasure (though that's the the basic) but because they require struggling with--and that's where the 'drama of thought' is affected.
this is a rough formulation of what i think the imperative of our prosody is, what i am looking to work out here. i wonder if this is getting a little more concrete than what we have so far.

Henry Gould said...

Am I right in thinking that Joseph's & Matthew's idea of (imperfect) representation-vs.-natural object, is sort of parallel to J.H.'s idea of difficulty, here?

J.H. Stotts said...

the place where they come together is in the striving for reconciliation--the trauma of that failure to achieve actual representation.
when we're altered by poetry, it comes as a shock, injury--and that's why we require intention in the double meaning of (1)purpose and (2)the healing or coming back together over the wound, the recovery of self.
harold bloom talks about this in a couple ways that i always liked. one is 'overhearing' which is what our own poetry does to us, the dynamic effect our own thoughts have on us when they give us pause. the other is his concept of anxiety, or the unresolved conflict we have with our heroes as we internalize and attempt to overcome them. all these things are difficult.

J.H. Stotts said...

these are crucial concepts for reading ourselves and for coping with inspiration