An Inheritance



On the slope of the knoll angels whirl their woolen robes in pastures of emerald and steel.

Meadows of flame leap up to the summit of the little hill. At the left, the mold of the ridge is trampled by all the homicides and all the battles, and all the disastrous noises describe their curve. Behind the right-hand ridge, the line of orients and of progress.

And while the band above the picture is composed of the revolving and rushing hum of seashells and of human rights,

The flowering sweetness of stars and of the night and all the rest descends, opposite the knoll, like a basket, -- against our face, and makes the abyss perfumed and blue below.

After spending time with Rimbaud, and upon beginning The Waves (which I'm going to take a hiatus from until I can devote my undivided attention to it), I began to wonder what has happened to these beginnings. I can't recall where I read this first (an on-line article? a post? something printed?) -- but someone asked what has happened to the inheritance bequeathed to us by the poets of prose. Rimbaud had his prose-poems -- Illuminations -- 'painted pictures' as they're simply termed by Verlaine. Woolf wanted The Waves to be a sort of 'play-poem,' to incorporate not just the current of human thought, but also the current of the sea, of time, of the moving, breathing world.

There are others to be sure but these two stand out because I've read them recently and wondered where have these problems gone. I remember reading Orlando a couple of years ago and thinking it was a supremely excellent sort of narrative. Incredible, exciting, provocative, it stirs the mind and the emotions. I remember thinking that if could wish to have written any novel it would be that one -- not Ulysses, not Magic Mountain or Crime and Punishment or Villette -- it would be Orlando. I remember reading To the Lighthouse and thinking that I had again hit upon something new, original, exciting -- that this was a sincere attempt to trawl a net through the current of life and to catch not just the effluvia but also the movement of the water -- to render that movement and life and activity into words, sentences, narrative.

What have we done with these beginnings?

To borrow a phrase from Kierkegaard, have we come any closer to explicating the moment, the fullness of time? His moment is something unique to his project of explaining the transformative process of moving from the state of untruth to the state of truth -- and without going into his project and what I think of it, I want to excerpt his idea of the moment, if possible, and to see it as perhaps a valuable concept elsewhere. Taken simply, the moment is the eternal as it is paradoxically included in the temporal. It's a unity of the absolutely different, and in the unity the two polar opposites are sort of launched beyond themselves as a new order of being entirely.

With that brief sketch, can we see perhaps the value in investigating through language the possibilities of human consciousness? I think that Woolf felt that there was something powerful, very powerful that underlies our individual perception. From what I've read in The Waves so far, she seems interested in articulating the obscure intersections between discrete, or apparently discrete personalities. She asks if we can instead see a fluidity, a communion, a place where that which seems separate does in fact meet. I wonder further if that meeting, the unity or community on the most basic, most essential level, if that's not something supremely worthy of investigation.

Furthermore, based on readings from Cassirer, I wonder if language, and especially this difficult, hazy prose-poetry is not the best vehicle for this investigation. He speaks of the nascence of language and myth -- flowing from the same springhead in the consciousness -- the construction and usage of metaphor. I'm sure that there have been hundreds of papers written on metaphor (I've noticed that almost every fictional character who writes a dissertation in one of the Humanities writes it on some aspect of metaphor) -- and I've read none of them, so forgive me if I say things that have been said before, by people far more qualified. I suppose I just wonder mostly about the role that language and poetry must play in the elucidation and illumination of human consciousness. I wonder just how close we can come to an understanding of becoming -- the activity of being.