Hi Plato, look at this!

Still soaked in the world of Anne Carson

In ESSAY ON WHAT I THINK ABOUT MOST Carson dicuss the concept of ERROR (which is what she thinks about most) through a poem by the ancient Greek poet Alkman:

There are three things I like about Alkman’s poem.
The fourth thing I like
About Alkman’s poem
Is the impression it gives
of blurting out the truth in spite of itself.
Many a poet aspires
to this tone of inadvertent lucidity
but few realize it so simply as Alkman.
Of course his simplicity is a fake.
Alkman is not simple at all,
He is a master contriver –
or what Aristotle would call an “imitator”
of reality.
Imitation (mimesis in Greek)
is Aristotle’s collective term for the true mistakes of poetry.
What I like about this term
Is the ease with whish it accepts
that what we are engaged in when we do poetry is error,
the wilful creation of error,
the deliberate break and complication of mistakes
out of which may arise
So a poet like Alkman
sidesteps fear, anxiety, shame, remors
and all the other silly emotions associated with making
in order to engage
the fact of the matter
The fact of the matter for humans is imperfection.

Plato on mimesis: If aesthetics is the philosophical inquiry into art and beauty (or a contemporary surrogate for beauty, e.g. aesthetic value), the striking feature of Plato’s dialogues is that he devotes so much time to both topics but treats them oppositely. Art, mostly as represented by poetry, is closer to a greatest danger than any other phenomenon Plato speaks of, while beauty is close to a greatest good.

So then, Mr. Plato, here is a question for you:

How do you feel about Carson claiming that Alkman is cultivating error, deliberately, to make beauty? Have you, Mr P, ever considered the beauty of error?

fragment of Alkman’s poem


12 thoughts on “Hi Plato, look at this!

  1. Beautiful Alkman fragment. Here’s Plato’s answer, in a dialogue with his companions, a goat, a book, and a priestess, complete with a passage from one of his very own, gasp, books: http://tinyurl.com/b74h5dk
    Just download the file from the link. Cheers, Harold

      1. Ha, ha. I wrote it just for you, to show that Plato had answered that question long ago, and not in a particularly positive way. It is the latest in a series of texts like this, inspired by Enzensberger’s essays in dialogue form and interviews with the dead as a form of non fiction. It builds on work I did two years ago, trying to animate texts for the book, which I view as a stage with multiple screens, that unfold in space in time. That proved to have a multitude of promems, and as a solution I hit on this idea of writing scripts for the page. That idea was based on (you see, I live in a house of cards) my two trips on the camino through East Germany, and my realization that the only way to tell that story was to accept a different form of consciousness and identity, rooted in romance and dialogue rather than in novels and clock time. The text I have almost finished of those journeys is built upon the model of drama. It is a nonfiction journey, with this funny dialogue. It is a drama for the page, that has found one way to get around that all-limiting writing problem, of writing scripts for an individual identity. Instead, it writes scripts for multiple identities, giving the identity to the text. This fits with the experience of the camino. A good model for that would be Dorst. He was writing TV and film scripts, but published them as novels, and it worked both ways. Anyway, I have enough of these texts for a book. Some are just side-splitting, but all of them approach issues of contemporary philosophy or of book culture and philosophy, and are, in the main, dialogues about culture after the death of the book, and, at times, pointed critiques of Creative Writing. And that’s the story. I have this manuscript, with a trickster goat, which builds on work I have done over many years with a trickster Coyote. As for the goat, well, I’m a Capricorn. I find these things uproariously fun. I rediscovered playwriting, my first love, four years back, but ran up against several problems: the plays I wanted to do were too off-beat for the North American stage, I have no interest in the Fringe circuit or in forming a production company, etc. But this idea, of writing scripts for the book. That seems to have some real potential. So, there you go. I keep thinking the book is finished, and then I write another one. This one fills in a hole in the manuscript, so that’s pretty cool.

    You know – I’m struggling with this text of mine which can’t decide its own form. I’m bringing it with me to Oslo next week, presenting it in a workshop, and hopefully we (me & my text) will find a fruitful way to carry on.

    The last play I went to see was actually a dance performance, where most of the dialogues were spontaneous variations over a very loos script. It might not have been an author’s dream, letting the performers say whatever felt them right in the moment, but it all worked very well on stage.

    Thanks again for your fantastic response to my Plato challenge!

    1. Dance is powerful, for sure. Thanks for the link. Very cool. It’s like the music of Terry Riley. Do you know “In C”? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjR4QYsa9nE and a lovely version with six pianos http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5BqH5_9V4E Much of it is scored for randomness, just as with your dance company. There’s a theatre company in Victoria (on Vancouver Island), that puts on a show once a year, which consists of ten poets reading their poems while ten dancers dance to them, unrehearsed. In advance of hearing the poem live, the dancers are given only the first and last lines of the poem. Nonetheless, the improvised dance and the poems click and become far, far more than either of them alone. Being part of that (once) was a deeply moving experience. The air was absolutely electric. As for the Plato piece, to clarify a point, what I learned working with my East German piece is that the first person point of view is limiting and presents all kinds of problems with transitions and causation, and makes it very difficult to get perspective, all of which wrestling with German culture, neo-Nazism and the echoes of Marxist society necessitated. It forces that kind of irony into a rather romantic notion of expanding the individual sensibility while at the same time keeping it inviolate — a powerful thing but one that comes at a price. Margaret Atwood has commented on speculative fiction by saying that the kind of fantasies it allows are ones that mainstream genres don’t, because the boundaries set for them don’t allow expression of the spiritual dimensions of contemporary humans. She might have gone further and pointed out that the boundaries are movable, but she didn’t, and neither, it seems, does anyone else, so we get this weird effect, in which the true expressions of deep contemporary life are called fictions, or are squeezed into fictional forms. These include nonfiction forms, such as conspiracy theories and books about leprechauns, completely fiction yet presented as fact, not to mention neo-Nazi ideology, but I digress. If you can read German, Enzensberger has a beautiful piece, called “Hammerstein, oder der Eigensinn”, which uses conversations with the dead as a means of including material of uncertain reliability. He has other books which are purely those kind of dialogues, but that one is a beautiful mixed piece. A most remarkable family, those Hammersteins. Most manuscript issues are problems of form and point of view. Have fun at the workshop! I wonder what goes on at a Norwegian writing workshop!

      1. Good morning!
        Now – let’s see:
        1) I have never heard of Terry Riley before. I’m totally untalented when it comes to music. My husband plays classical guitar, and has just recently been taking up the banjo!?! And my son plays bass guitar in a death metal band – so our house is always filled with music, but it has other origins than me … For some years all I listen to (that is when I myself could choose) was Bach. Then I was introduced to Giya Kancheli, and just recently I have started listening to Cage. (What I enjoy most about Cage is his fabulous sense of humor). (To me he’s very similar to Beckett in this sense). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq47vAgW_Ho&feature=related
        2) I have had the fortune of working with theater ensembles in rehearsal periods a few times, it has been great fun. Working together with people investing all their time and effort in art is such a luxury. I have always been working with texts written be others, having my own texts worked with in such a setting would be fantastic!
        3) Atwood and Neo-Nazism? I’m a bit lost between the lines here …
        4) German … I can travel around in Germany and make myself understood and understand most of what people tell me, but reading it … I just recently tried Thomas Bernhard, but no, I’m not there yet (I love Bernhard, but I read him in Norwegian). Fortunately some of Enzensberger’s writing is translated into Norwegian: http://www.tanum.no/tanum/product/product-detail.action?id=9788275474900
        5) To be honest: I have no experience with Norwegian writers workshops … This one is about the novel, and at the moment there is only one thing I know for sure: I’m not writing a novel! To tell the truth; I’m not very interested in stories, what interests me are words, sentences, rhythm, repetition, sounds, colors, emotions, images … Well anyway; I get to get away for a week, me and my text on our own, can be great fun all the same. http://www.litteraturhuset.no/english

      2. Oh, my! Thomas Bernhard! That’s some of the hardest German there is. No wonder you can’t read it. Most Germans can’t! It will make all your leaves fall off and your sun vanish behind fog. If you doubt that, take a look at your photo today… see? Yup, that’s why. I see they have Hammerstein on that site. That’s great. They seem to be marketing it as a book about Hitler’s general… that’s not really the case. He wasn’t Hitler’s, for one, and the book is, really, about the entire family, not just the general. A lot of time is spent with the daughters, who were just as contrary as their father. The other Enzensberger books aren’t the ones I had in mind. So serious, you know. His playful work doesn’t seem to get translated. Oh, Atwood and the Nazis, no no. You see? My English is as complicated as Enzensberger’s German. Even I can’t understand it half the time. I got this way by reading too much Bernhard and Handke. Especially Handke. Bernhard turned my hair white. Occupational hazard. I meant: the boundaries of genres and of the world are movable. Novelists understand this as fiction. Poets are pretty sure the world is a fiction. Oh, the fun they all have. For German that Germans and Austrians actually read, there’s this delightful piece. http://www.tanum.no/tanum/product/product-detail.action?id=9788281691131
        Lovely conversational German. The syntax is witty and delightful. Beautiful sentences. Just a little email love story. The trees will bloom. Storks will settle in their branches and clatter and set frogs a-trembling. The sun will shine. A good one to read if the intellectual sides of your self have gone on holiday to view a production of Peter Weiss.

      3. HAROLD – I’ve actually published a newspaper review on it: http://jassaa.blogspot.no/2010/12/en-moderne-brevroman.html
        But tell me, what is your Handke favorite? I have “Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht” on my shelf, I have started it, I thing I’m going to like it – .

        Here is a Norwegian writer for you:
        Tomas Espedal “Against Art: The Notebooks”

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