Monday, July 27, 2009

Nothing is Outside the Framework of Poetry

Nothing is Outside the Framework of Poetry
An Interview with Mukesh Williams
By Rohit Wanchoo
Published in The Copperfield Review Volume 8, Number 3, Summer 2009

Nothing is outside the framework of poetry but it all depends what a writer wishes to include in it. Poetry is not a single message to the world but multiple messages that escape the intention and control of the poet. Each epoch, century and generation must reinterpret its own world, represent its own reality and create its own priorities. Within these reinterpretations, representations and priorities poetry must find its original telos.

—Mukesh Williams

Rohit Wanchoo: Do you think the Aristotelian idea of poetry has lost its meaning today?
Mukesh Williams: During the time of Aristotle there was no clear separation between the principles of rhetoric and poetry. This is one reason that his Rhetoric was far more popular than his Poetics. It is only later, during the Enlightenment period that his theory of poetry, especially his pronouncements on tragedy, became popular and influenced many writers and their representations of the world. For Aristotle poetry included a wide range of genres such as the lyric, epic and drama. Of these he gave greater importance to drama and especially to one aspect of drama that is tragedy. By and large Aristotle rejected the domain of comedy, which he equated to the orgiastic phallic tradition, which was quite popular in some of the Greek towns during his time. Even today this tradition survives in Japan in the kanamara matsuri enjoyed by young and old alike. Perhaps that could be one reason that serious poetry journals today caution poets not to submit scurrilous or prurient content in poetry. It is quite difficult to explain most of the things Aristotle says and its relevance today in such a short span of time, but out of his key concepts of mimesis, catharsis, peripeteia, mythos, ethos, dianoia, anagonrisis, hamartia, melos and opsis it is the first that is mimesis which has acquired great significance in modern times especially through the Auerbach’s writings and later through the historical investigations of Michael Foucault and Hayden White and Clifford Geertz. Aristotle understood mimesis as both imitation and representation but in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries things were so grossly misrepresented that the postmodern thinkers began to interrogate concepts related to practically everything modern—nation, political boundaries, national literatures, dictionaries, history, cartography, identities, and social sciences. The shift has brought into focus the fixing/unfixing of the narrative and the history of representation both in creative writing and academic research. Other aspects of Aristotle such as purgation, reversal, and miscalculation, what the Romantics called a tragic flaw in character, have lost their importance. Lexis and melos are still quite important but spectacle has lost its power. Modern predicament itself is a spectacle and we poets cannot do better than the television, Internet or the newspaper in creating awesome spectacles. When we were in college we studied Aristotelian notion of tragedy and we still remember by heart its definition,
Tragedy then is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play, in the form of action, not of narrative, through pity and fear effecting the proper catharsis of these emotions.
I remember we had to explain the word catharsis as the purgation of the excess of emotions of pity and sympathy as our drama teacher would think we were complete idiots if we could not recite these lines. However, in modern times, life itself is so tragic that talking about tragedy is rather meaningless.
R.W.: Do you think poetry should communicate emotions recollected in tranquilly, should possess negative capability, use objective correlative or escape from emotion?
M.W.: Yes, the ideas of Wordsworth, Keats and Eliot have partial validity today, but these ideas also create hegemony of sorts, literary theories that tend to be dictatorial in nature. Aesthetics and literary theories have limited validity and sometimes none beyond a framework. Look who reads The Sacred Wood today? Who reads Keats’ letters to understand his concept of negative capability, the uncertainties of the poetic endeavor? Who reads Wordsworth’s Preface to the Lyrical Ballads to understand the “spontaneous overflow of emotions” or “emotions recollected in tranquility?” Poetic theories are expressions of the philosophical, political and social thinking of the times and cannot be therefore separated from them. Today these theories about poetry have little value.

For more read The Copperfield Review


Colonel said...

Dear Mukesh,

I am a retired Military thinker, Ex IDSA to be precise but for Rozi Roti I work as the Director & CEO of Akal Security India Pvt Ltd ( The subsidiary of the New Mexico based security set up Akal Security Inc).

I am also a Bharat Soka Gakkai member.

I was happy to note that you have tought in SOKA University.

I am also working on Asian Unity and Nuclear Power.I now live in Pune.

Was highly impressed with your blog and was keen to keep in touch for my future efforts in that direction. I am more of a action guy , even while in IDSA , I used to profess the same.

Would it be OK with you, if we remain in touch. My primary mail ID is

Good Luck.


Col Sunil Narula

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