Sunday, August 08, 2004

Poetics - III

III


The world is subject to change: plants, animals and languages disappear. Life is dynamism and progression, and also decay or a leap into new orbits. It is a chain of phenomena, infinite and inexplicable. With its theories of relativity science has also made time into an uncertain quantity and with it all our ideas about simultaneity.
Given these perspectives, it is problematic to talk of a here and now. Just as strange as to speak of up and down, when the earth is round. The concept of here and now implies a stationary idea. None the less we experience moments in the continuous process that life is. I shall also avail myself of the current terminology and speak of a here and now. A poem can be an impact on time of this kind, and while these lines are being written, several minutes have also ‘passed’, minutes that will never return. In the same moment present is present, it turns into past. To the moment are tied not only the past, but also expectation and possibilities for the future.
Change is not necessarily tragic, and not only a condition one must put up with. It is in the changeable that the magic of life is to be found: here the experience of time is given.


*

The risk for the modern individual is to live more in the future than in the present, i.e. at the expense of the present and without presence, constantly on the way, without plan or with a conscious aim, instead of concentrating on the moment, which includes both past and future. To put everything into the single moment need mean neither painful loss of past nor be tantamount to giving up setting goals for oneself. What it involves is to have oneself with one. Always.


*

Every process has a duration in time, but in itself time is nothing. Yet there is something that unfolds time. My cells die and are replaced, I am a body in transformation. All the same, it is still me, it is my fate. The child inside me is there, the young girl, all I have been and already am, are there at the same time.


*

The certainty of the end, death, is decisive for every momentary action, but the past as a time dimension gives the present its special meaning.


*

I write in order to move, in order to be in action. Constantly on my way. But across this linearity I experience partly a circular dimension in the form of seasonal cycles, those recurring events with their almost invisible changes, and partly psychic space, which absolutely refuses to let itself be fixed in time, a kind of simultaneous presence related to the dream, in which I at once act and play the part of the observer. A universal time like this interests me at least as much as this second: 22/5/1989 10.57.57, where birds are calling and the lilacs are in full bloom.


*

The body ages, but language does not begin to turn sour.


*

I don’t connect writing merely with the ‘stopped time’ Marguerite Duras talks about. Poems are not reflections of an objective world, but new creations. Poems grasp the future before it passes. They are crystallized moments in more than one time dimension.
*

The poems will always be tied to my pulse at the time in which they were written, but they may be about things that are far away or quite absent.

*

Emotions do not last long. The memory of them does. Nostalgia is dangerous, memory vitally important.

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In other cultures time is expressed very differently, e.g. there are Indian tribes that do not distinguish between past, present and future. Instead they have two grammatical forms. One for what is in a state of becoming, and one for what is complete. Not just the words but also the grammar reflect a conception of reality.

*

In memory time is fixed, but with memory is also associated a certainty about the end of everything. My longing moves therefore not in the direction of something that has been and will be able to happen again. Nor does it seek a utopian future, but rather that what exists should acquire meaning, while it is present, that the now should contain several time dimensions. For Kierkegaard the moment constitutes an absolute now: ‘The moment is that ambiguous place where time and eternity touch each other, and here the concept of Temporality is set, where time constantly cuts off eternity and eternity constantly pierces time.’ Borges has called the time in which God sees the whole duration in one single moment ‘the momentary eternity’. The gaze that embraces a universality is unusual, but there are moments in one’s work on poems when the horizontal and the vertical come into play at the same time.
Edmond Jab├Ęs talks of ‘eternity secreting the moment with the word’.

*
Time becomes visible in words while time is fleeting and therefore impossible to capture in writing. Words do not cross the lips with the same speed that the body registers, just as the seen object is only perceived when the light-rays reach us. Every perception and every communication via words is always delayed in relation to sensation. With the written word there is also associated an inertia which almost seems provocative today. To work with language is, however, to be cognizant with the fact that even before the word is spoken or set down on paper, the phenomenon may not exist any more. Something exists before language gets there. Language will always be too late with regard to sensation and will consequently belong to a time dimension different from the factual time of the senses – phenomena that do not play a role in the everyday, where one experiences a simultaneity with the flow of events.

*

A poem has its continuum in time and space. It lasts for the time it takes to read or hear it. It lasts for the number of heartbeats while it is being read. The unfolding in time relates to the amount of time it takes to perceive the poem, to get its individual elements to interact with one another. The time that is involved in its production is different. The process has a different continuum. The question of whether the poem’s inception is long or short has no influence on the experience of time that is associated with the reading. The finished poem is free of the time involved in the work on it. A long period of inception does not necessarily make a poem qualitatively better than one that has a short one.

*

In spite of all limitations the poem also constitutes a manifold quantity of time, a transcendental phenomenon. While biological life is only limited: from here and to there, I can read myself into the universe of any dead poet. I can even read a poem again and again. It is an aesthetic event each time, both because the poem renews itself with each reading, and because I myself move constantly and consequently accentuate different elements.


*


The poem’s now is both an unending moment and a limitation. Words and images strive for continuum, but point inexorably to ending. The poem wants the infinite, eternity, but at the same time has annihilation built into it.

*

Because the poem does not live by words alone, but also by silence, it is able to preserve and protect the enigmatic.


*

We live in the moment, but also act in relation to a historical time, just as in language we avail ourselves of a consciousness that is greater than ourselves. Each moment is both the actual and a product of the past, the always already given. This synchronous time, these echo chambers of moments are what the following lines seek to formulate:

There is not One body
but the family’s body and the depths of heaven
not One person’s isolated memory
but a kind of universal recollection
As a childbearing woman’s body
always has a knowledge
thousands of years older than herself.

This stanza goes on to say that it is not nature but language and history that express the divine.

*

A constituent feature of the poem is its time dimensions. Poetry does not say: seven years later she bore a son. Poetry establishes another space, that of the moment, and therefore one cannot question it from the point of view of prose. Poetry is divine present tense.

*

A poem has an after-time. The poem’s images form after-images and after-sounds. The sound itself is easy to remember. The mental and emotional condition that accompanied the poem when it was read may be reconstructed or may manifest itself again. Lines may turn up unexpectedly and quite unannounced hours or days later – in the same way as a dream may be surprisingly recalled by something. There is a special freedom in unfolding inwardly in after-thoughts.
There are very few poetics that deal with this after-life. I am, among other things, what I have read over time. It does not disappear, but is deposited like a spiritual sediment. Thus, what is also involved is a time dimension different from one’s own.


*

It is not only difficult, but downright impossible to find history’s ‘pointe’ in one’s own time, as histories are constructed contexts. A third gaze must decide what context the individual moment belongs to. Kierkegaard formulated it wisely when he said that life must be understood backwards but lived forwards.


*

The Zeitgeist is as a rule rather spiritless. A shared comprehensible quantity expressed at the expense of complexity. A multiplicity of events reduced to a few clear events in an attempt to freeze the flow. The Zeitgeist is a historical, political and social phenomenon, which does not mean that culture is timeless. Art collides with time, and by no means all works of art survive this collision. But there is also art which expresses both yesterday, today and tomorrow.

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