The signification and aesthetics of poetry



Nowadays, we regard as poetry, after the liberation of the line from the descriptive regulations and rules as an expression of art discourse, semantic non sequiturs and semantic obscurity which reach even the point of non-existence of meaning.

Often, the line functions as a phrase which suggests the self-evident and gives rise to further obscurity as to what it is indicating as self-evident. Thus this game of a fascination, which is purely of a psychological texture, has become detached from the discourse and from the aesthetic rule. It is the same game which is played at the level of the two genders, and the same game which is played in politics.

It is what leads to an annihilation of value and in which both fascination and devaloration are at work at the same time. It is this which has developed into being the slow death of poetry.

This slow death of poetry, which starts out from discontent with the substantive, from discontent with the true, from discontent with the good has been incorporated as the criterion of poetry. That is to say, poetry has now developed into an anti-Platonic art, into an art hostile – so to speak – to the need of being.

It is an art of a spurious boundlessness, an illusory boundlessness. It is complacence with illusion, and often, judgement and criticism itself as to the data is dictated by this tendency towards a breach with reality. It is dictated by the completion of the breach with reality, as if the universe ought to be subject to our whims, to desire. A fortiori, it could be said that here there is neither the beauty of the starry heavens – as Kant would have said – or the moral law in the heart.

The form of poetry has now ended up in being regarded as a style of meaning. This deconstruction, of course, is not to be found only in poetry; it is also to be found in music. There is a disdain for the classical since the classical shows itself to be non-negotiable; since we cannot subject the classical to our idiosyncrasies. This deconstruction in music, because we cannot produce a continuation of classicism, leads to decline, and decline takes pleasure in eccentricity.

And eccentricity is now regarded as eclecticism, it is regarded as an elitist value. Thus, things elude even the self-criticism of Picasso, who said that for art to be art, it should discard its characteristics as food for the elect, and function as a metabolism of the purest ideas where the artist cannot manifest his talent with every caprice and fancy, as he says, with every expedient of intellectual charlatanism. Thus, the lack of experiential values is supplied by this pretence that we are the elect, the specialist public. This self-criticism is replaced, and the self-critical eye which Picasso cast upon himself is banished, and from that point on, Veblen’s Leisure Class takes over, and here [where] the quintessence is assessed, the new, the strange, the unprecedented, the scandalous is sought after.

Picasso adds that by means of his cubism he satisfied these gentlemen and the critics, who the less they understood, the more they admired. This is the way in which he held their fascination, by amusing them constantly with all these games, all these tomfooleries, brain-busters, riddles, innuendoes, and arabesques, and in this way he became famous – very quickly. And this meant sales, profits, money, wealth, as he himself points out. But when he was alone with himself, he did not have the nerve to consider himself an artist in the ancient sense. “There have been great painters like Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, and Goya. I am only”, Picasso admits, “a public entertainer who has understood his time”, who satisfied, as far as possible, the idiocy, the vanity, and the greed of his contemporaries. This was a bitter confession, he admits, more painful than it might seem, but it had the merit of being sincere. Picasso revealed this in the THE ARTS[1] journal of New York in May 1923. This is the landscape in which, as we have seen previously in the light of the critique of Tarkovsky, not only painting, but also music, poetry, literature, and theatre function.

This is the modernist inflation of art, in which the backbone has been lost, the semantic frame has been lost, because discourse, language must be a plasticine in the hands of our vanity. We do not respect a material which goes back generations. This is also the behaviour, of course, of industry, of futuristic technology as to the environment, and this is also the behaviour with the spirit, until the final fall. It is the sickening syndrome of Pompeii.

Here, since we have mentioned Pompeii, the ancient words of Longinus tell us that all these deviations are due to a single cause: the anguished quest for original ideas, in which those in the modern age behave like eccentrics. It must, of course, be said that original ideas are exceptionally rare among them.

If we are to believe Longinus,[2] the age in which we live cannot claim originality. It is an age which repeats. That is to say, the absence of the quality of the classic from our life is apparent. We do not know of many ‘modernists’ from the age of Longinus who have survived, though he himself did.

And, of course, it goes without saying that this obscurity facilitates the narcissism of the passive viewer, listener, and reader. It forms in him the facility of a false initiative, he himself feels freer to imagine and to put himself in a ‘feeling of universal creation’ with this fascination of the indeterminate. It is a sense of divination which he feels. It is the same sense of divination felt by the supporter attending a sport as a spectacle, it is the same sense of divination which is sold as an old recipe, and here also there is no originality when the illusion of freedom gives much more pleasure than freedom itself; when liking is expressed for the illusion rather than for the truth of a thing, this is why art as conflict, art as a breach with truth is a cunning trick of power. In spite of the fact that it does not annoy, it is a cunning trick of power, because it gives rise to illusion, because it cultivates such a fantasy in dialogue that it alienates, it produces an estrangement from truth.

In the last analysis, in this passion for deconstruction, it would be good if at some point we were to deconstruct today’s idols, instead of deconstructing classicism.

And now to return to poetry and say two words about it.
Poetry started out, at least for the Western hemisphere, with the two epics: the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer. First, with the epics, that is to say, with an aesthetic narration of events in sequence, with an aesthetic form. Afterwards, there came theatre and, later, other forms of poetry, which developed into a fragmentariness of discourse. For that reason, we do not have great poetry, but we have great theatre after Homer and Hesiod.

Poetry was re-discovered just as modern painting was ‘rediscovered’ in the caves of Altamira. Could it be that the time has come for us to return to the birthplace of poetic discourse, which is truly meaningful and theatrical plenitude? Here where there is a composite discourse in which theatre, theatricality, symbolism, of course, philosophical discourse, and the psychological function  are welded together within a relief ontologically in tandem with this dynamic, the nuclear dynamic which words possess, and with the nuclear dynamic which allegories possess, without the whole of the poetic language resembling a vague nebula.

Instead of returning to this nebula to the primordial soup of language, should we not see matters of art in a cyclical development, or, rather, in a spiral of the discourse of historicity, and recover discourse with those features of coherence which it had from every point of view? And certainly we should not be tied down by the form – but why is there this aggressiveness, this hostility to meaning and its signification? Is art in the end obscurity of meaning?

[1] “From the moment that art is no longer the sustenance that nourishes the best, the artist may exteriorize his talent in all sorts of experiments with new formulas, in endless caprices and fancy, in all the expedients of intellectual charlatanism. In the arts, people no longer seek consolation, nor exaltation. But the refined, the rich, the indolent, distillers of quintessence seek the new, the unusual, the original, the extravagant, the shocking. And I, since cubism and beyond, I have satisfied these gentlemen and these critics with all the various whims which have entered my head, and the less they understood them, the more they admired. By amusing myself at these games, at all these tomfooleries, at all these brain-busters, riddles and arabesques, I became famous quite rapidly. And celebrity means for a painter: sales increment, money, wealth. Today, as you know, I am famous and very rich. But when completely alone with myself, I haven’t the nerve to consider myself an artist in the great and ancient sense of the word. There have been great painters like Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt and Goya. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his time.
This is a bitter confession, mine, more painful indeed than it may seem, but it has the merit of being sincere.” Picasso, Pablo, The Arts Magazine (New York, May 1923). Source: Photochoros magazine. 
[2]All these ugly and parasitical growths arise in literature from a single cause, that pursuit of novelty in the expression of ideas which may be regarded as the fashionable craze of the day“. Longinus, On the Sublime, c. first century AD. Source: Photochoros magazine.

Yiannis Zisis, writer

(Photograph by Yiannis Zisis)