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I wrote a contrafactum to rhythm changes today. Or I should say that one just occurred to the fingers of my right hand as I was playing, aft...

Friday, July 28, 2017


We think of a poem (or novel or play) as something unreal that imitates something real.

But nothing could be further from the case. A novel is real, it exists. What it represents is a fiction, something that does not exist in real life. Therefore it is useless to say a novel copies life.

Or a poem, it is an utterance that is real in and of itself, but that other utterance it seems to be copying never happened. It is an impossible utterance, or one whose only possible framework is the poem itself. Can we think of Keats copying copying another utterance of some other imaginary subject addressing himself to "Autumn." Does not that introduce an extra step that is wholly extraneous? Where is the model that is being copied? In Keats's head?  But it cannot be there unless he first invents it, and what we call inventing it is the same act as writing the poem.

I am not being facetious about this at all. I firmly believe that this analysis is correct, even intuitively correct. It is not even a paradox.


Thomas said...

Williams said that the poem "becomes 'nature' — continuing 'its' marvels" and opposed, like you do, the "copyist's tendency" in art. I've always thought Shakespeare was misunderstood about "the mirror of nature". He was in complete agreement with you and Williams and was, I suspect, the "happy genius" of his house.

Leslie said...

How is this different from creacionismo and where precisely unlike the idea of the poem not meaning but being?

Jonathan said...

Don't you think that idea is part of romantic aesthetics, the idea of creation itself? Huidobro is not that original. We call writing "creative" now in a way they wouldn't have before romanticism. And it's not because of Huidobro.

But I think even mimetic literature is not mimetic the way people think. We can't think of Cervantes imitating some real person named DQ. Not only because DQ never existed, but because even if he had that would be the wrong approach. It would be a distraction, like rummaging around in Dr Williams' backyard to find the red wheelbarrow.

Mimesis is a powerful idea in people's head. It was probably a brilliant way to start literary theory in the West. But after a while it just stops making sense.

el curioso impertinente said...

If poetry is a form of 'communication', yet that which is to be communicated is the poem itself, and only incidentally the experience and the thought which have gone into it. ~ Eliot