Tuesday, September 29, 2015

You Do Not See

A striking distinction between types of poetry (and types of fiction, too): "You did not see before," versus "You do not see."

"Having to know and being unable to know characterizes all the various Symbolist poems discussed in this chapter; it is a statement of their essential method. Now, poets and critics have been shouting up 'strangeness' for a long time. Perhaps the most persistent shouters of late have been the Russian Formalist critics, who proclaimed ostranenie ('strangifying') as the cornerstone of all imaginative literature. But for these critics, as for others, strangeness is nearly synonymous with newness, and, as has been pointed out, there is nothing novel about that kind of strangeness in poetry.
"The quality seen in [Symbolist poems] is of another order.... The strangeness of Symbolist poetry is identified with mysteriousness -- in other words, not only that which had been previously unknown, but that which is unable to be fully understood, that which perpetually lies just beyond our grasp. The difference is great. Where a poetry of newness says, "You did not see before," a poetry of strangeness asserts, "You do not see." Whatever its preferred subjects, themes, or artistic creeds, a poetry of this kind always has the same refrain: that the most basic structure people hold in common, language, is not held in common at all. To the extent that such a poetry can have meaning, to the extent that we can participate in its unfolding, it is a triumph of our ability to sense emotion in tone or to grasp fundamental similarities and parallels. It is, for all that, a triumph in the midst of incomprehension -- a victory in a world where, as readers, our own uncertainty and separateness is being established in the same breath."

-- From
The Techniques of Strangeness in Symbolist Poetry, by James L. Kugel. (Chapter 4.)
Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1971.

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