December 07, 2005

On Fertility, Growth and Freedom.

"I think if I were further along in my spiritual development I would have a clearer idea of how to ease Thom's inner pain, or I would be willing to quietly let him reap the results of his previous actions, while remaining myself at inner peace with the way reality has played out its patterns."

- Jan Neumann

Hmm. How many times have these exact thoughts crossed my mind... If I were further along, if I could just see my way into wisdom, I would know how to respond to certain situations, I would know how to help him/her/them... Or I would at least be able to accept that the only help is to allow the situation to play out...

Yesterday in class, someone was discussing the effect a poem had on his entire worldview, how it entirely revolutionized it on a personal level. The larger context of the conversation was the relative potential for poetry (or art in general) to be political/revolutionary. Marcuse seems to claim, in one essay, that all true art is revolutionary, but only in itself, as "content having become form," and thus the more overtly/immediately political a poem, the less revolutionary is its potential. ("Its relation to praxis is inexorably indirect, mediated, and frustrating.")

These questions, to me, seem similar. How, firstly, to attain to the wisdom/love/perspective which can benefit others, and secondly, how to communicate this to others through poetry or one's relationships. Why is this so important? If another might start a "Save Dave" campaign, think of this as a "Save Dave from Himself" protest--how does (can/should?) a person wake an other person up to the suffering that he brings upon himself? On a broad scale, how to make it clear that many circumstances assumed to be fate or nature are actually the direct result of freely made choices?

I have, without realizing it, stumbled into an axiom, it would seem, about the role of free will in all of this. These past few months have revealed a particular obsession of mine with freedom--in what way are we free? Am I free if I am impotent to help those I love most? Are those I love most truly free if I can so easily "save" them? Are they free if they cannot help themselves, if they are utterly convinced of their own lack of freedom? This is ideology--as my one professor puts it, the annihilation of imagination, the inability to imagine alternative possibilities.

Something recently clicked in my head, related to the quote (I believe from the Talmud), "It is not your obligation to complete the work, but you are not at liberty to quit." Relating to the idea that we live in patterns and that part of "the work" is to be that single break in the pattern--not simply to imagine or mourn a better way, but to embody that alternative. (As Gandhi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world.") I believe there was something about a number of monkeys who learned to wash potatoes on one island, and when a certain critical mass was reached among them, monkeys on other islands all began to wash their potatoes, too, without needing to be taught. This is mysterious.

How does this relate to poetry? People have claimed (like Marcuse) that real art is by its very nature revolutionary (which is not to say it is by nature peaceful or "liberal," mind you). If this is the case, it also seems to be, by its nature, the kind of revolution which requires fertile soil in the personal heart/mind/soul of the respective reader. How does one prepare oneself to be fertile? How does it even occur to a person that he might not be fertile, that he is unmoved by potentially life-altering experiences (or perhaps, so easily moved by the trivial that all movement or change is merely surface-level turmoil or drama without any lasting effect, a pool with a constantly rippling surface but none of the deep currents you might find in the ocean)? And, if a person does begin to question his ability to allow himself to be revolutionized, how does he go about opening up that potential within himself?

It seems to me that some personal work must be done, some choice must be made at some point to be open--and I mean actually open, not merely building transparent but airtight walls. And to be fertile, there must be some risk of being rotten, of decaying... Which is not to say being simply "dirty," as in "made of dirt"--some unliving bit of mud devoid even of the potential of moisture. It seems many people almost pride themselves on being "dirty" when it is really a certain state of sterility. Being "rotten" is something else--something that has to do with worms and micro-organisms eating you apart, something that has to do with the continuation of life in a vastly different form. It is in allowing oneself to be utterly destroyed by worms that one can be fertile.

To be fertile, one must acknowledge the horrifying fact that life continues.


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