As I said a few weeks ago, I’m currently in a class called Poetics and Historiography for which I’m writing a two-part dialogue. Part one was a conversation between Plato, Aristotle, and me. Near the end of that dialogue, John Milton — the blind poet — walked into the pub and interacted with the group. In Part II, the principal characters remain, but with a few fun additions. Without further setup, here’s Part II:
“Well done,” the blind man said, sipping his Woodford Reserve. “Well done. This is going to be a splendid conversation.”
“And by that, you mean?”
“Three removed,” the blind man started, ignoring my question, “is a humor of the highest order.”
“Humor?” the first man asked.
“Yes, humor. Socrates, Plato, the reader. Three removed, you see? And, of course, that doesn’t take into account the medium itself. As it’s read now: the codex. So perhaps what you meant to say, in all of your hilarious absurdity, was that poetry is four steps removed from the form.”
“Abstract,” the second man interjected.
“My apologies,” the blind man said. “Poetry is four steps removed from the abstract. Less horizon and more chasm, a point perfectly made by yourself.”
“Ha! You think cleverly, poet, but don’t pursue evasion from one such as myself. I’ve stated my position and it is with me that you must argue. Neither history nor reception will change what I’ve stated, and by that I stand. You take the gods and make them your playthings. You write as if you’ve seen truth, experienced it, and then, against all reason, you dress it up in anthropomorphic fineries, leading all astray. Your myths, as your methods, are deplorable.”
The blind man sat back and with two hands clacked the metallic end of his white stick. “I’m blind! The only truth I’ve seen is that which lives inside. Or have you forgotten, Demiurge? You, too, have spun myths to shape souls. Yet, your forms—as your ends—are incomprehensible. ‘Where is the square root of two?’ Catch up, Play-dough, all we see and all we know is mediated by cultural units in a constant state of différance and deferral. Neither you nor I can know a thing, anything. Recollection and aporia—ha! Appalling! An asymptotic labyrinth is all there is. Its all there’s ever been. Let the gods scorch the earth. For my justice is not your justice. And my poetry is nothing more than a haven of unrest in a sea of turmoil.”
“Post-structuralism,” the second man said, “has its place, but, for the gods’ sake, John, snap out of it. What you did? It transcended time and space. In its very distension it rearranged tradition. It was an inspired inspiration. Your poetry was and is a deathblow to unlimited semiosis. It’s the very foundation upon which meaning can be built.”
“Hff,” John scoffed. “We’re doomed to repeat our errors. What was post-structuralism if not a return to the New Academy? The approach to knowledge cycles through its countless revolutions while history mocks those caught in its whirl. Knowledge never arrives at its destination. The poet, you see, fumbles through darkness hoping to arrive at bliss. But we’re bound, fettered by our linguistic construction. I know no truth. I’ve communed with no beauty. I know nothing of God. Besides,” John paused, “darkness has no meaning.”
“Get it over it!” a man in the adjacent booth shouted. “I was poisoned with hemlock and still can’t feel my lips, but you don’t see me throwing a fit.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, leaning over the padded seatback. “This is a private conversation, if you wouldn’t mind—”
“Sure,” the man said, “I get it. As a cultural unit, I have no corporeality. Is that it? Well, fine. C’mon Arthur, let’s go,” he said, gesturing to the man on his left.
“Sorry, old chap,” Arthur said sheepishly. “It’s not the right time for me. I’ll just wait here if you don’t mind.”
I returned my attention to John, who was in the process of throwing back his remaining Woodford. “Go on,” I gestured.
“There’s this scene, you see, in my favorite epic where the Rexque Futurus stands at the edge of Rome peering in. Oh! how he deserved it, the Empire. But god—not the gods—said, ‘No.’ He turns, sees the harbinger, and, in a moment, his kingdom crumbles. Violence, greed, power, these were his flaws. And every time his bastard son kills him, I break. Three steps or four; forms or abstractions; imitations or the thing itself—call it what you want, but poetry asks something more of us.”
“What?” I asked.
The blind man turned towards my voice and nodded. “Yes…that’s the question.”
“There is a way!” the second man exclaimed. “One can unveil Geist and commune with being?”
“The moment you name a thing,” Plato said, “is the instantiation of transgression.”
“In other words?”
“In other words, reflection is impossible without mediation. We are linguistically constructed and as such—”
“Might I join you?” a man, middle aged and bearded, asked.
I nodded. “We’ve been waiting for you, in fact.”
“Well,” the man said, dripping in the accents of Southern Italy. “I am here.”
“Reason or poetry?” the second man asked. “Is art imitation or something more?”
The Italian laughed. “An old question, yes? Well, this is what I know: ‘All poets write bad poetry. Bad poets publish them, good poets burn them.’”
“Unconscionable,” John said.
“Perhaps,” the Italian shrugged. “I’ve always enjoyed your poetry, but that’s because I’ve always enjoyed Latin.”
“I fear our time is up.”
“We must go,” Plato whispered, “and crawl back into our books.”
“I have come too late, no? Well, perhaps I can have the last word before time and space—in collusion, those old devils—work to squelch our truth. ‘Books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.’ This cannot diminish what we do, only embolden it. With reason, we often seek to grasp the subject hoping that the words will follow. But with poetry, we must first grasp the words trusting that the subject will follow. Start there, no? Then work your way up to truth. It is possible. But it is not easy. Delve into the secrets of the universe—read, write, think—and then claim mystery. For when we stop believing in gods, Demiurges, being, or even truth, it isn’t that we believe in nothing, it’s that we believe in everything.”