The Rules of the House

“The religious image and the poetic image are close in turn to the psychological archetype of Jungian analysis which seeks to arouse the content and form of the individual life from the collective unconscious.”

Had a great discussion about chapter 4 in the H.D. book in last night’s class…but this sentence above has stuck in my mind.

Duncan’s constant use of the trope of “arousal” (the evocation of Eros) seems to highlight his “libidinal apparatus” of interpretation. “Meaning is not given to the world about us but derived from the world about us, that our human language is a ground in which we participate in the cosmic language. Such a sense of the universe as a meaningful creation and of experience as coming to apprehend that meaning determines the change from the feeling that poetic form is give to or imposed upon experience…to the feeling that poetic form is found in experience, that content is discovered in matter.”

Duncan argues that Pound’s ideogram and H.D.’s hieroglyph are evocations of received signs from the “great language that the universe itself is written.” Thus, the image resembles both the religious (iconographic) and the psychological (archetypal) as other examples of this evocation…of the universal language existing within the image itself.

The difficulty i have with this particular argument is not the idea itself of evoked image as received sign, but of the ground itself of the “meaningful creation.” It seems that the same critique that Deleuze and Guattari pose against Freudian interpretation in Anti-Oedipus (a reduction and rewriting of the heterogeneity of experience into a contained family narrative, which becomes proposed as the ultimate meaning (albeit hidden) of experience).

Reading this into both the religious image and the Jungian archetype, it seems that these interpretative methods employ a similar reductionism (granted that the collective unconscious is more of an extended family). This reductionism of the ground, or “containment strategy”, is present also in chapter 3 of the H.D. book, Duncan’s clunkily poetic attempt at the mytho-historical.

Besides the dangers of this kind of reductionism, which doesn’t leave space for “others” to work the ground, there is the problem of his determinism. The ground is always-already fixed. Levertov picks up on this tendency in their letters (which i posted on a few weeks ago). One is not able to re-vision the ground – i.e. the collective unconscious as formulated by Jung is always-already closed. This does not allow us to revise our collective unconscious, in the same way that we are contained, if within a Freudian matrix, in the drama of the family.

This “containment strategy” is present throughout chapter 4. Particularly in the ways in which Duncan banishes particular tendencies from his Garden (perhaps his “Household” is more appropriate). Amy Lowell, Early Williams, Pound the pedegogue and activist, are caught “disobeying orders of the imagination.” The acceptance of the visionary Pound as opposed to Pound the pedagogue highlights what Duncan is willing to contain within his ground. This is similar to his dismissal of “Lilli” in chapter 1. Lilli as poetic nurse/muse is acceptable, but Lilli as “Trotskyite partisan” is “disobeying orders.”

As romantic as the cosmic language sounds, as the idea of a “community of meaning”, it is equally problematic because of its tendency towards reductionism, closure, and exclusivity.


2 thoughts on “The Rules of the House

  1. i dont understand. duncan is talking about what has moved him, what does move him; what mystical elements he perceives in his own and others lives/works and when/how he and others perceive and conjure something he calls magic. cant he have those proclivities without being a reductionist? cant he claim allegiance to that mode of operation, that process, that openness to reception without denying others their own process? i read this not as a manifesto or ‘prescription’ for writing but rather simply a statement about what arouses him (and here i would argue strongly that arousal has to do with impulses including but certainly not limited to the libido) and what arouses him or any of us is something unique to each of us and should be ‘allowed’, shouldn’t it? i never got the sense that duncan was on a soapbox telling me what is and isnt poetry, preparing a ripe ground for some and not others or rather inviting some into the house and closing the door on others but really i get the idea that he encourages each of us to find that which arouses us. his call to this learning and sharing is in ‘the meeting house’ not in the classroom with its authorization but rather an egalitarian place where everyone has footing and platforms and podiums are useless. this denouncement of power structure within the institution that ‘learning’ has become is the most empowering poetic statement we have read akin only to niedecker whose statement (in my opinion) came in her complete disassociation with academia and lack of manifesto. here we get a statement but its in the form of a love letter really: his completely passionate, mystical and sometimes even erotic adoration of poetry, more specifically h.d.’s poetry. similar to the way i felt reading val’s poems this week- it feels like im a voyeur ‘peeking’ in on another voyeur. to use that libidinal apparatus-i will bring this into a pornagraphic trope (and im not using ‘pornography’ with a pejorative tone) its like watching him masturbate, the heightening sense of arousal while reading her, examining in detail those elements that are particularly appealing, reflecting on similiar moments with other poets, and basking in it. the only thing that may read as ‘proscriptive’ to me is his encouragement to give everything access- to NOT close up receptivity because of will or ego. going back to my trope-if one is reaching certain heights of ecstasy does s/he close off the mind to imaginative powers that may bombard with thoughts not ‘normally’ allowed access simply because s/he wants only to think of a loved one? that would be thwarting the body/spirits desires simply becasue of the ego, the will and how true is that to undirected desire? as a poet might want to write a political poem thwarting other gestures that they may stay true to their will to write a political poem: wrestling the poem into a position (posture) rather than allowing entrance to every vulnerability, letting go of control and not being threatened by it. he is begging that allowance be made at least in his own poetry and recognizes those moments in others ie: pound pre-agenda. but i never got the feeling in this reading that duncan was delivering a sermon or manifesto; i never got the feeling there was an assigned method for achieving climax-for the poet or the poem- other than receptivity. and that notion, that gesture feels refreshingly feminine to me in what often times in this ‘literary’ world of manifestoes and poetic prescriptions and proscriptions feels like one enormous cockfight.

  2. thanks for responding! i suppose you’re right…he can have those proclivities, but his proclivities are inherently reductionist so i don’t think he can escape that critique. Even though it is a statement about what arouses him, and that’s great, it is still a prescription for us as well. He is making grand statements about poetry, employing a rhetoric of universalism within a very strict “containment strategy.”

    and i agree that he does invite people to the house, but his house, with strict rules, and if you disobey the orders of the imagination…no more readings for you at the poetry center!

    I also agree that his denouncement of academic power structure is quite lovely…but he trades it in for an ascetic power structure – he doesn’t escape the dynamics of power. so, a kind of empowering, but certainly no manifesto is a kind of manifesto.

    “he is begging that allowance be made at least in his own poetry and recognizes those moments in others ” … this is nice and it is not his method i am attacking…his method and his poetry i love and admire…it is his theorethical ground i take issue with, and what it excludes and its rules.

    Also, it is hard for me not to see Duncan as part of that “cockfight”, especially after reading the letters between him and Levertov…and his essay “A Critical Difference of View.” and his issues with Spicer, and Watten later over Z.

    but i hope my critique of Duncan’s theory doesn’t suggest a devaluation of his method or his poetry. but maybe it does?

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