To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Monday, May 4, 2009

Reconfiguring Romanticism (27): David Matlin on Blake, Duncan, & more

[The following paragraphs are excerpted from David Matlin's It Might Do Well With Strawberries, Marick Press 2009.]

Better to decorate yourself with sex and music and if you had hard feelins to lay’em up on a bar before they became the Death Valley summer dead mummifying to a trespass no explanation’ll volunteer to cover. Say breath and being hearing and smell are vapors. Each of them trees waiting for the sap breathed from the Beforetime Others. The ancient women’s discovery of intimacies, intelligences, moistures in their impressions. BreathSouls panted out in mindful wanderings. Drops of saffron for the clitoris in those twilight generations. Crocus. The stigma erect receiver of pollens dried to pungent aroma two and two in the swayings. Let its fragments go hard and dry into the seasons of women who gathered death in their baskets and there was still no knowing how far they had come and gone right under the eyes of a world which might always remain blind to them. The infection traveling. Fat thigh bones of she-goats, necklaces of wove flowerheads, dill shoots for curls, pink-ankled charms. “Hero” “Timas” “Anactoria” “Athis”. All were of “beautiful dances” flowing in the immediacies of said speech on torn papyri destined for garbage and throats of mummified crocodiles. The rebellion waiting for another age like the water signs of the Shoshoni, and the only thing to soak in those neighborhoods is dust of alkali where the children were fed bird tongues for wit and quickness.

Monday October 3rd 2005: Spent the afternoon at the Sea; full of marvels-washed up kelp and stone and millions of exposed sand clams, each one like a snow flake, no two alike in their remarkable colors. Water very warm and clean but surf so small and slow no throb to hold the body.

The destruction of the army is in accordance with the civilian leadership. “The army has decided to accept a greater number of recruits who score near the bottom of military aptitude tests.” The administration’s explanation for this is an astounding maze of further disorientation. The original standards (“They really weren’t standards. They were just guidelines,” said Army Secretary, Francis Harvey) were “established to prevent the military services from meeting recruit quotas by accepting too many people with low IQs …” In this mad twisted sales pitch are we sending our most heavily armed cretins to “spread democracy”?

“Democracy in America was never the same as Liberty in Europe. In Europe Liberty was a great life throb. But in America Democracy was always something anti-life. The greatest democrats, like Abraham Lincoln, had always a sacrificial, self-murdering note in their voices. American Democracy was a form of self-murder, always. Or of murdering somebody else.” This heaped up American phantasmagoria, phantoms to be let loose with their night gear over the Mesopotamian oilfirs and how harsh or misplaced is Lawrence’s statement if one examines the “Black Sites” “Abu Ghraib” “Bangram” the grotesque of the democracy similar to the description of the Pequod under Peleg’s chief mateship:

“A cannibal craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies…”

Robert Duncan’s observation in “Man’s Fullfilment in Order and Strife” is also of use here (though this poet too despaired over “our manner of speech” as a “cover” for the ruthless wastes and pollutions which are the more livid and lasting guarantee of our freedoms: witness the “forever problems” of the present technological age - fiend tombs for the tons of plutonium wastes and our contemporary search for a “warning symbol” that might adequately speak to a projected 100,000 to 150,000 year future; our present paranoias of Alert Theory crazed with images of cyborg feminist corporations poised in that “then” refusing to believe the ancient male warnings about to infect them and digging into the still potently fatal “Waste Isolation Pilot Plant” or WIPP salt caverns stuffed with the sludges of nuclear weapons production ready to wreck planets and galaxies – the cannibal tricks of our world and the drama of our deep sicknesses being played out in these scenarios of future murky feminism incapable of “reading” or “thinking” as the present players imagine it in their game scenarios of what to do with world-wide waste hazard sites).

“Blake looking into the beginning of the American Revolution saw the Revolution of the States as belonging to the drama of the deep sickness of Europe ‘where the horrible darkness is impressed with the reflections of desire.’ Blake’s vision is of a confusion of intents and powers that strikes true to the confusion in which America was born. At first seeing Washington, Franklin, Paine as heroes rising in the flames of unfulfilled desire, rising to liberate Man from his bonds of repression, Blake came in his lifetime to see Washington as he saw Napoleon, as a ‘heroic villains’ for following the subsidence of the American and French Revolutions came no liberation of Man’s nature from the external repressions of social law or the internal repressions of the super ego …”
Further, Duncan says, “The angel Albion appears in Blake’s America 'a dragon form, clashing his scales'; and the shadowy Daughter of Urthona, ‘Dark Virgin,’ the suffering spirit of America, appears as the Bride enslaved addressing her groom:

I know thee, I have found thee, & I will not let thee go.
Thou art the image of God who dwells in the darkness of Africa,
And thou art fall’n to give me life in regions of dark death …

Blake saw the soul of America as a shadowy bride whose black husband is in chains; or a black bride whose true groom is the enslaved spirit of Europe hidden in Africa. The reality of our history appeared in flames and agony where a spiritual alchemy was at work to unite in marriage Heaven and Hell or the Righteous and the Damned …”

Blake in his prophetic rage also saw that rebellion against empire begets empire anew, Revolution condemned to age as an “Eternal Viper self-renew’d”:

Heavens; Eternal Viper self-renewed, rolling in clouds
I see thee in thick clouds and darkness on America’s shore
Writhing in pangs of abhorred birth; red flames the crest rebellious
And eyes of death …

The Poet recognized the future plagues of obedience and conformity surging up in America and Europe. He knew these were horrible visions of stern torments accompanied by the images of rulers “glowing with blood.” Though I think this made him sometimes despair over the repugnant visionary burdens of his art's fullness he was still able to proclaim in the abyss of unutterable shambles and convulsions an aptitude for a more thorough archaic matrix of visionary stamina starkly uniting him to his personal devotions and that would not make him immune to cynicism (I don’t know how that can be possible) but lessened the complicities between rage and cynicism that charges the Prophecies not with fulfillment but with the tricks of their impersonations making of the intelligences rage can hold a perishing invasion of the Polypus who lures each human creature passing before it into murdering its own soul with the sensuous afflictions of cruelty and contempt. Blake allowing himself to be caught in the Loom of these forces and their slumbers sings:

For every thing that lives is holy, life delights in life;
Because the soul of sweet delight can never be defiled

The tones of speech offer the first reawakenings of primordial dissuasions and release from ancient and constantly imperiling propaganda as well as poised endurances by which to disarm the forces and ruling slumbers which Blake understood would enslave us in our time. Their energy informs us that once we are able to realize and proclaim that the Behemoth Rich who have stolen our Time and World and the Deepest Hells of violence they are willing to unleash to preserve themselves no longer matter to our lives that we can in that instance begin to imagine another world and to cut ourselves away from the Mystery tyrants and their waves of foaming blood until “not one” as the poet says in his “Four Zoas” (p.373) is “left on Earth.” We have “Jerusalem” “The Four Zoas” the horror strangeness of “The Book of Ahania” so often accompanied by very thin readings to this day. But Blake (as Shakespeare and Dante) seems to read his Age as few rarely have. His “Epics” and “Prophecies” in the magnitude of their challenge presents a new storehouse of perils measured defined weighed as taxonomic specimens along with their paleontology no matter how complex or murky. The recital is often devastating in terms of a possible mutagenic apocalypse of Being and the angelic confrontation Blake knew must be made Public in order to invent himself in the force of his own recognitions to make Life come true once more. He identifies a crisis of immemorial Beginnings and their endurance and makes of it a new composure to be shared and used.

There seems in this too, a further stance of consideration in relationship to Paleolithic art. When one regards the practices of various American tribal Peoples and their studies can this open up a new range of cooperative resonances toward much of the now ever enlarging orphaned storehouse of human experience? I am thinking for instance of how an individual tribal woman or man would have studied as I understand the information a pond or small lake and the lore such a body of water invoked from one generation to another over hundreds and even thousands of years. Each sharing population would have observed the other creatures; animals, plants, insects, fish, birds, and passage of those generations noting the cycles of health and disease, new migrants and transformations, the forms of weather, colors of sky. The documentation afforded a sense of projective imagination and by that applicable and even masterful meanings. As example one might think of a young girl who learns of such a pond or lake from her mother and grandmother and because of that extends their calling to fascination life-long care and womanly lore. She notes over her lifetime the whole creaturely web including herself and expanding that active intellectual/visionary achievement imagines more particularly what this immediate geography might look like in a thousand or five thousand years-and what would be alive extending the energy of that care far beyond anything our own assumptions can presently hold or dismiss. Such senses of future personally felt and extended, the rigor of a Self foreseeing the continued living fullness of a world was part of communal sounding and creative extremity inseparable from daily life. Do the Cro-Magnon images carry a similar sense of creative extremities and generative call for awareness in order to avoid the tyrannies of barrenness that otherwise wait for human generations who might attempt to enslave and conscript what was so long ago recorded in those caves into cravings for sustained ruins and is this another way we can regard this art as it confronts the constantly transforming human aptitudes for oppression?


Montag said...

God Lord, how perfect all this is.

For the past 2 months I have been wreswtling with the vision - brought on by reading the writings of John C. Calhoun - of the America which always settles its problems by destruction.

The Lincoln Memorial became bi-polar, celebrating emancipation, yet weeping for the decision to sacrifice so many lives.

Thank you so much for your postings. I just stumbled here on a search for this and that on Blake's "How Sweet I Roam'd" and a memory of it being quoted by Leo McKern as Rumpole, and to have found this is quite a mitzvah.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing...
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