Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Double Life of Veronique

An interesting discussion on The Great American Pinup about Charles Wright quotes Wright on his own poetry: “My subject (language, landscape, and the idea of God) is not of much interest now. But it will be again.” This interests me because I’ve heard a couple poets say they’ve felt an unusual urge lately to write about God or “metaphysics” (whether or not—most likely not!—they believe in God). It also interests me because current events have certainly brought home in a violent way how important, for better or worse, religion and “the idea of God” still are in the world.

It seems to me there are two currents of “avant garde” poetry: one very accessible that has its roots in poets like Whitman, and one very difficult, almost inaccessible. But both currents often share a progressive political perspective that is deeply skeptical of religion and its destructive impact on people’s lives.

One thing that strikes me is how different this perspective is from the perspective I often associate with Eastern Europe. OK, I’m thinking about this because last night Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique was on cable TV so I watched it again, and I also recently re-viewed the film of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Both these artists are often thought of as exemplars of postmodern experimentation, yet their work embodies values that I think can only be described with words like “mystery” and “soul” and “inner life”—just the values that seem to be dismissed by the good old U.S.A. avant garde as bourgeois nostalgia.

If there is one word that every reviewer uses in describing Kieslowski’s films, for example, it is “poetic,” e.g., Caryn James: “Veronique is poetic in the truest sense, … suggests mysterious connections of personality and emotion ….” “Poetic” seems to be a metaphor for all the qualities (personality, emotion, etc. ) that are just what the “avant garde” want to purge from poetry. And maybe they are right to want to purge mystery and dream from poetry because, well, what are those qualities but “the opium of the people”?

I’m sure many people turn to poetry because of how intensely they value their “inner life.” I’m not sure that being “religious” means anything other than valuing one’s inner life, whether or not one believes in any god. But when you put on one side of a balance all the nuances of your inner life (ah, how the wild iris at Point Reyes makes me reflect), and on the other side all the suffering in the world, it seems like the most self-indulgent soap opera imaginable to pay attention to your inner life, unless you somehow equate it with “God.” God falls like lead on the scales. Anyway, that’s what I’m wondering about: whether all the artistic arguments over poetry are really religious arguments (just like all the political arguments).

But I promised myself I would never post a message over 500 words long so I’m shutting up!

1 comment:

David Koehn said...

Everything I write is against religion and against any written or otherwise previously articulated version of God. Everything I write has at its core the disclosure of some idea of god or gods or some other universal or at least collective notion of what manifests itself on the surface of the world from the currents within.

Wow, that makes no sense. I think I'll go work on a poem.