Post by Mary Newell on Jan 6, 2023 20:28:12 GMT -5
One can connect "Pliant affirmation" with "Determined smile" and consider that this is a pose of insisting on known (comforting) meanings, rather than continuing to yearn, or as one respondent quoted, staying with "Radical unknowability." The experiment to bracket all the mentioned life forms is appealing - although each has its own relative space-time. I'm rather stuck on why "logical" here, and perhaps the word only refers to the act of bracketing in order to create a liminal space in which beings can dream together. There is pleasurable irony in "hard to forget what's never been known for sure," another testament to our proclivity to be affirming rather than - as she recommends - questioning or yearning. I'll go with C D Wright's definition, that it's a poem if she calls it one. And there is ample assonance, alliteration, compression to warrant the designation.
Invocation and suspension of logic twined Escher like in a single poem.
I think “ located in memories without precedent “ and “ fine stock of syllables not yet squandered in pliant affirmation “ point to dreaming and defiance. The next line” Don’t be scared “ makes sense in this context, dismissing detractors as “ non existent of the gods” “Hard to forget what's never been known for sure.” This line may refer to the power of that which resists easy explication ( the kind of poems we love in ModPo!) I feel the next line is enacting exactly that kind of resistance; thoughts conjured by yearning minds disturbing the smooth and compliant structure of the status quo embodied in the musculature of the smile; a smile that is perhaps emblematic of the “ manufactured consent” that Noam Chomsky talks about.
The “thought experiment “ seems to suggest a less anthropocentric approach to consciousness ?
Post by Rahana K Ismail on Jan 6, 2023 23:42:17 GMT -5
Preliminary thoughts on the poem:
The poem begins with the image of a handful of words, their authenticity certified, unrecycled and unused (Love the phrase 'not squandered in pliant affirmations). 'Without precedent' is the overarching idea here, it originates in the 'dreams' of the last sentence, hence untouched by recursive repetition. For me, it does flow from one sentence to the next and the whole poem is thematically through-lined. As to answer the question of whether this is poetic, why not! The juxtaposition of these words intrigues and surprises, prompts us to excavate semantically and thematically, and caught me in my reading 'Hard to forget what's never been known for sure' to pause and ponder.
The middle of the poem perhaps alludes to detractors of artistic expressions of all forms: 'gods that count your blunders' and 'the determined smile' who polices rules of grammar and correctness. 'Yearning' is the restlessness of the artist to never be sure of oneself, to never be content with oneself: the struggle and striving to express one's thought in a decipherable form. It seems to embrace the unknowability and ambiguity in knowledge and throws open the stage for everyone to bring in their share of language/art.
Joan's reading of her poem varies from the printed version Al has given us. I've transcribed it, for whatever illumination it gives. Punctuation is based on her pauses.
To be located in memories without precedent where so many syllables have been squandered in pliant affirmation. The more non-existent of the gods are the only ones counting your blunders. Even so, hard to forget what with recklessly yearning minds and thoughts that so intricately deform the musculature of a smile. The most worthwhile thought experiment I am currently aware of is to construct a logical space-time bracket in which all the animals are sometimes dreaming.
Here I offer notes of my own thoughts, usually based on comparing the two versions. I make the assumption that the printed version is the later, current version. Maybe later I can/will attempt a focused, coherent interpretation.
Interesting change in first sentence. "To be" has been struck. Change from "so many syllables have been squandered" to "fine stock of syllables not yet squandered." More hopeful.
Insertion of "Don't be scared." She is guiding us--yet raises the specter of being scared.
Original sentence starting "Even so" seems to imply that what is hard to forget are one's blunders. The later "Hard to forget what's never been known for sure" is more enigmatic. On its own, it is a bit of a Zen koan, like the first sentence's "memories without precedent." However, if we use the original as a guide, it may suggest that our blunders may not be blunders; we don't know for sure.
Even so, hard to forget what with recklessly yearning minds and thoughts that so intricately deform the musculature of a smile.
Hard to forget what's never been known for sure. Yearning minds conjure thoughts bound to deform the musculature of the most determined smile.
1. The first feels more personal to me. Despite the use of plural "minds and thoughts", the read-aloud version seems more as if the poet is talking to herself about her own experience. The printed version's "Yearning minds conjure thoughts bound to deform" is more clearly addressed to all of us with yearning minds (which may remain reckless, though "reckless" was struck) who cannot help but deform the musculature of a smile. This sense of address builds on the guiding tone of "Don't be scared."
2. "conjure" links forward to "dreaming."
3. "thoughts bound to deform the musculature of the most determined smile." Is this the mark of our blunder, to have deformed a smile? Have we, in our yearning (for meaning?) minds, wiped away smiles of wonder or appreciation, naivete or determined optimism? Or is our musculature deformed in the direction, not of some critique or over-seriousness, but laughter? "pliant affirmation" (clearly a negative connotation) does or does not equal "the most determined smile"?
The sometimes dreamers have been expanded from "all the animals" to "all of us--animal, mineral, vegetable." Interesting choice to alter the traditional order of what must be declared at the beginning of a round of 20 questions: animal, vegetable or mineral. To more one step away from the playful reference to the children's game?
"logical space-time bracket... dreaming." Another paradox/koan. Except, of course, logic, logos, is word; and what do poets do?
Post by Laura De Bernardi on Jan 7, 2023 0:04:12 GMT -5
Retallack is experimenting with language. "What happens with words so arranged?" seems to be the underlying question. Unpacking what this language experiment might be doing, I'm drawn to the title, which points to an event that has happened 'just in time' - ie, the phrase 'none too soon' usually points to disaster averted. If disaster has been averted, of course there's 'nothing to be scared about', so 'don't be scared' makes sense. The sentence acts as a calming device - let go of your angst, it seems to be suggesting.
The experiment also argues that all gods are non-existent. A religious argument is being made in a cheeky manner, sly. If the "more" non-existent ones are assessing your mistakes, there's nothing at all to be worried. Being 'lesser' they don't have any clout, in case heaven does exist. The "less" non-existent ones are too busy to deal with your inconsequential blunders, so, yes, nothing to be scared about there either. Or that's what the words imply to me.
"Hard to forget what's never been known for sure." That's the kind of 'true or false' proposition that is easily answered. If what's never been known for sure is unimportant, it's easy to forget. What's hard to forget are the big questions, which impact on a life. Why marriages break up, innocent children die, wars begin, that kind of thing. What scratches at the human mind is confusion, doubt, and what cannot be "known for sure." True!
What seems to be the case here is that language itself - arranged in a certain way - can radiate meaning/s - and that the mind can leap from one word to another - and create rich worlds of inquiry, from images, thoughts, feelings etc. The words themselves aren't rich or doing very much at all. But the human mind in action, that's another story. Give it a puzzle, any puzzle - poetry and philosophy can both be described as puzzles, certainly puzzling - give it just a taste of something to puzzle over, and it's like a dog with a bone.
Philosophical prose like this is certainly poetic, in the sense of distillation of complex ideas into succinct images. There’s so much contained in “Hard to forget what’s never been known for sure,” for example. I think the poem can engage the reader in a way that the essay doesn’t. The essay makes a case, whereas the poem invites the reader to explore the situation. In this poem, Retallack invites us to conduct a thought experiment (she doesn’t demand it or say it’s the only or right way—she just says it’s the only worthwhile one she currently knows about). And that invitation is consistent with her claim elsewhere (writing about essays) that experiments like this bring the writer and reader together. A lot of philosophical prose, on the other hand, aims to draw lines in the sand that separate believers from nonbelievers.
Inquiring minds want to know, and the thoughts produced by yearning to know can generate consternation and erode even the smuggest, most “knowing” smiles of the official knowers.
What might those thoughts look like (the thought experiment asks) if we and everything around us occasionally lapsed into dreaming? I wondered how I might even go about constructing anything logical under illogical conditions (dreaming minerals?). Is this even possible? I’ll never know until I try, I think she says, and few of us have the courage even to try.
Does the title ("None Too Soon") suggest that the need to undertake this experiment (or one like it) is especially timely? Or urge us to do so before it’s too late? Can we ever know for sure? I don’t have good answers to any of these.
[For me, it’s nearly impossible not to read this poem in the context of having recently viewed the PoemTalk on JR’s The Poethical Wager. Here, especially, “Radical unknowability is the only constant.” But we still need to muster the courage “to forge on, to launch our hopes into the unknown—the future—by engaging positively with otherness and unintelligibility.”]
First off, I was intrigued by the differences between the printed (final?) version of the poem and the poem JR read in 2013. For instance, in the print version, the syllables have been squandered, and in the reading, not yet. The text poem has the sentence "Don't be scared," but the reading doesn't. Tracking these differences makes me feel closer to the process of poem-making, the thoughts and decisions behind it. The struggle to articulate; or perhaps, the struggle to let go of articulation. So, start at the top, None Too Soon. Arriving at exactly the moment before the situation goes from bad to worse, thereby preventing the worse from happening. It's a cliffhanger. From there we're thrown into a turbulent environment: memories, syllables, pliant affirmation, but: Don't be scared. OK, I'll carry on. Now comes a contradiction: non-existent gods counting blunders. Things can't be too serious then. Next, some clichés, then a sentence that twists and turns and leaves me uncertain who is speaking. There are so many shifts in this poem that I feel like I've travelled a hundred miles by the time I get to the final sentence. Which opens with a value judgement and a challenge, i.e., to construct a logical space-time bracket. Again, a koan. How do we construct that which cannot be grasped? But perhaps that's the point. To construct that which we do not yet know, that which is the dreaming; to be open to the dream, even if only sometimes. Because how can we change everything if we keep doing only what we know? lou
I tried to use "quote" to respond to posts by Will B and Lou. However, when I did so, my comments were erased, and only the quotation of their full comments got posted. Perhaps this was because I inserted my comments at the top rather than at the bottom?
To answer the last question first I'd say definitely a poem and perhaps more poetic than philosophical or poetically philosophical - but where exactly is the line that divides philosophy from poetics? 3rd question: I would imagine a determined smile to be somewhat tense, perhaps not completely honest. The deformation of the musculature could be to a more relaxed, more curious expression that can forget past blunders (after all only the "more non-existant gods" are counting - I love that line, it's so kind) while searching unafraid for what's never been known for sure. I think the yearning is for what's unknown and for the dreaming in that "space-time bracket" that is not devoid of logic. Space-time includes all time including memories and words that haven't yet been used. I suppose the thought experiment is about the continuum of time, how time and space are fused and how dreaming and logic coexist in that continuum. For all of us "animal, mineral, vegetable". "None too Soon" seems like a kind poem of gentle prodding. I love how she plays with time: memories without precedent,syllables not yet squandered, past blunders, forgetting, counting, yearning.
Space-time does not evolve, it simply exists. When we examine a particular object from the stand point of its space-time representation, every particle is located along its world-line. This is a spaghetti-like line that stretches from the past to the future showing the spatial location of the particle at every instant in time. This world-line exists as a complete object which may be sliced here and there so that you can see where the particle is located in space at a particular instant. Once you determine the complete world line of a particle from the forces acting upon it, you have 'solved' for its complete history. This world-line does not change with time, but simply exists as a timeless object. Similarly, in general relativity, when you solve equations for the shape of space-time, this shape does not change in time, but exists as a complete timeless object. You can slice it here and there to examine what the geometry of space looks like at a particular instant. Examining consecutive slices in time will let you see whether, for example, the universe is expanding or not.
The prose poem form used seems to be a tongue-in-cheek way to address what could be viewed as the titles of chapters in a philosophical treatise. Here the sentences follow each other seeming to be leading somewhere, but with the content of each ‘chapter’ compressed to the point of non-existence. The reader or listener is left to supply the content for each of the suppositions each sentence or chapter suggests. The last sentence of the poem: ‘The only worthwhile thought experiment of which I'm currently aware is to construct a logical space-time bracket in which all of us - animal, mineral, vegetable - are sometimes dreaming.”, is like a summation of this proposed treatise, suggesting philosophy itself is merely a ‘thought experiment’ in which all of the “kingdoms” humanity has conceived to categorize existence are merely dreams. It’s interesting that Retallack introduces herself as the the philosopher in the last sentence. It seems to say that ultimately philosophy is an individual struggle to make sense of experience and construct a rationale about life even though it may all be just a dream.
Post by davesinclair on Jan 7, 2023 5:30:36 GMT -5
1. How do you respond: Hmm, that's a tricky one. It's hard to articulate both the nature of the poem and my response. Even the title seems rather opaque to me.
2. What sort of "thought experiment" is she proposing?: Her 'space-time bracket' is one of unity in everything - not just as humans but as 'animal, vegetable and mineral'. But here proposed thought experiment is missing a hypothesis to be tested. She is just suggesting thinking about how everything dreams simultaneously in some sort of togetherness. But that is not an experiment in the scientific sense - it is merely a statement of system state.
3. What does the kind of smile she describe...? I like the phrase 'determined smile'. It implies the stubborness of someone with a goal in mind, going forward in a purposeful way, tenacious and resolute, smiling in the face of adversity, with a dogged optimism. One needs to tense oone's muscles, control our bodies, to achieve a goal in such circumstances, and that is what we choose to do in life - ie to strive, to year, for something out of reach. The poem says we should not be scared, we should not be deterred by the rigid rules pressed on us from outside (the 'non-existent gods' that 'count our blunders' - we must go forward, supported by others dreaming with us.
4. Can a piece of prose be philosophical like this and still be deemed a poem? deemed poetic?
Yes and no. No - It does not fit the dictionary definition of a poem - ie something with structure, metre, rhyme, and form. But then do we care if it does not sound like Tennyson? Yes - why shouldn't a poem be philosophical? Indeed that's a good thing.
What worries me is why the poet has chosen this particular form to present their idea. Is the straight prose form the most effective communication channel for what the poet is trying to say? Or if she has chosen an ineffective channel, what was her purpose in doing that?
I love this poem, it's full of the joy and pliability of words, how we use them to express our beliefs and emotions, even deny ourselves. For example the first line
'Located in memories .... pliant affirmation.' is really quite funny - our collective memory is full of the richness of language that we haven't yet wasted on agreeing easily with something we don't necessarily really agree with or believe but soon will ... a kind of 'does my bum look big in this' question that can only have one answer (yes) but we say no to avoid repercussions, keep the peace. the more serious extension of this is that we can easily get caught up in this sort of acquiescence when life presents more serious dilemmas.
'Don't be scared. The more non-existent .... your blunders' - are, to me, another push to reassure us to go with our true feelings because no one important (the more non-existent of the gods) is listening or counting our mistakes. Another urge to use our language to show who we are perhaps?
I hold no religious beliefs but I'd love to know which gods Retallack thinks of as the more non-existent.
I love the yearning minds sentence, an allusion to questions that can wipe the smile (deform the musculature) from your face?
So much expression of love and joy in words in this poem and so much encouragement to open up to possibilities beyond what we are conditioned to - I especially love the idea of minerals and vegetables dreaming.
Even the title, 'None Too Soon' indicates urgency,summing up and pushing the same message not to waste our memory (collective and individual) but to relish it and enjoy what it has to offer through heartfelt honesty.