Beginning to think again about dissertation stuff, and am imagining a dissertation which takes as its theoretical background/foundation the work of Angus Fletcher in A New Theory for American Poetry: Democracy, the Environment, and the Future of the Imagination. Here are some key terms in Fletcher’s book, which I will then discuss.
concept of horizon – (Fletcher’s definition) the meeting place between imagination and perception
poet’s way of being in the world – (my definition) that poet’s style, the poet’s manner, his or her stance, tacit philosophy, way of functioning on the page and, by implication, in the world
poetry as environmental form – (Fletcher’s definition, paraphrased) the poem not being about the environment, but itself being an environment
power of underlying rhythms – (my definition) the emotional rhythm of a line, the way that syntax gestures towards living a life, the rhythm of thought expressing a “poet’s way of being in the world”
poetry of becoming – (my definition, aided by Fletcher) what Ashbery is constantly writing about, a kind of becoming, a ripening of interiority, change, flux, difference
theory of coherence – (Fletcher, my paraphrase) – the “way things hang together” without necessarily corresponding to any reality outside the coherence
diurnal knowledge – (Fletcher, but me, too) – a kind of wisdom, the simple awareness of the seasons changing, the days replacing days, nights replacing nights, how this feels
neutral awareness – (Fletcher) awareness that finds some medium or middle position between passivity and activity, an awareness I associate with John Cage and Thoreau and maybe even Andy Warhol, although I need to think more about this
Okay, so I’m thinking about structuring my dissertation around the figures of Ashbery and Elizabeth Bishop, although I’m also interested in the work of Mark Rothko, Thoreau and Cage. Rothko’s paintings seem to me to be a good example of, in a sense, “environment-poems,” in that you enter them as though entering a strange but somehow familiar environment. They are of course not about environments so much as they supply an environment; and they are also meditations on horizon as defined above, whereby what we perceive and what we imagine find a common ground in the painting, the forms, the color. They therefore, through their hazy forms, their clear ambiguity, suggest a way of being in the world that is able to tolerate the way in which simple things may be inordinately complex and vice versa.
All the Abstract Expressionists, now that I think about it, seem to have been interested in paintings that weren’t about lansdscapes or environments, but which were themselves landscapes or environments, places in which the viewer might experiment with their own notions of their imaginative and perceptual horizon.
Bishop is also an interesting example, for she embodies this sort of neutral awareness whereby things are allowed to be things, whereby she does not seem to want to order things around so much as describe the things as they are. This is why I’ve always thought she served as a fine example of Martha Nussbaum’s “incomennsurability of values” – Bishop seems to learn to value things as they are, without using this valuing as a means for representing some larger Platonic reality or vision. I’ve always thought the same thing about James Schuyler, as well as about Ashbery. It’s a way of being in the world, attested to by the poem’s underlying rhtyms, their emotional syntax, that takes each thing as it is, without conferring on this thing some powerful extraneous Platonic reality. Everything and anything that arises in the environment of the poem is fodder for the poem’s horizon.