Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Forget Spicer - Part One

The recent wave of Spicer-mania which has overtaken our city is severely afflicted with misapprehensions, one of the most egregious being the respect shown for that poet's generously self-advertised capability of receiving "dictation." The writer functions like a radio receiver receiving messages from internal ghosts, or as a medium receiving a visitation from "the other side," however undefinable that source may be.
The idea is hardly original. The poet-as-medium is an ancient notion going back to earliest antiquity, when the poet was dictated to by the muses, or by whichever deities stepped forward to inspire the receptive writer. A common 19th-century motif, the Romantic poet still received his inspiration from "above," while later in the century, after Baudelaire, the disrupting idea began to occur that poetic inspiration is instead generated from "below," and might be stimulated by drugs, shamanic ritual, nitrogen narcosis, tantric sex, ecstatic dancing, or by Heaven-knows-what-else that is available to invoke a furor poeticus. As in all artistic efforts aimed at transcendence, the audience must be somehow persuaded that what it is getting is a lot more exciting than what it is seeing.
Of course we might take a more psychologistic approach and assume that Spicer did indeed experience subliminal voices or hear acoustic hallucinations.
But we are being messed with, however we view the situation. If poetry emanates from an unknown, other-worldly subject, what is its identity, and how we do know that it is not dictating gibberish? And if Spicer is hearing voices, actually a not uncommon occurrence, why are his poems any better than those of writers who don't? For Rilke there existed Weltinnenraum as a venue for poesis, but if it's no more than a private reality, what exactly is its utility? And Philip K. Dick's grandiloquently formulated, reality-generating "Vast Active Living Intelligence System" -- does it for all that make him a more innovative narrative writer than J.M. Coetzee or Doris Lessing?
The fact is that extraordinary psychological states have no purchase in normative aesthetics, and to suppose we should concern ourselves with Spicer's poetry on such a flimsy and unoriginal basis suggests that we are viewing yet another emperor who has lost his clothes.

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