Sunday, June 17, 2012

Questions of Form

Form is a pharmacy of theory. Nothing is tangible. Meaning that void itself has palpable form. Or that nothing at all has palpable form. And really, what difference does it make?
The marriage of form and content is a chimera. Horses glow in the jaw and occur as tangible living entities in the imagination of the poet whose brain is a boiling cauldron of form seeking form.
In Metaphysics Ζ, Aristotle introduces the distinction between matter and form synchronically, applying it to an individual substance at a particular time. The matter of a substance is the stuff it is composed of; the form is the way that stuff is put together so that the whole it constitutes can perform its characteristic functions. But soon he begins to apply the distinction diachronically, across time. This connects the matter/form distinction to another key Aristotelian distinction, that between potentiality (dunamis) and actuality (entelecheia or energeia).
Because really, there is no form. There is energy and potentiality and what the human mind chooses to put there. Things with flavor and quality but without shape or outline. Shadows and drafts. Drapery and waves.  Phantoms and winds converging in rain. There may be patterns available for these phenomena, sonnets or haikus, but that doesn't mean they're ready to get bisqued and glazed. It means that being is said in many different ways.
Consider, for example, a piece of wood, which can be carved or shaped into a table or into a bowl. In Aristotle's terminology, the wood has (at least) two different potentialities, since it is potentially a table and also potentially a bowl. The matter (in this case, wood) is linked with potentialty; the substance (in this case, the table or the bowl) is linked with actuality. The as yet uncarved wood is only potentially a table, and so it might seem that once it is carved the wood is actually a table.
But what of feeling? What of sensation taken in its purest form, which is formlessness. You can’t wash an emotion, can you? I mean wash it like a shirt or a pair of socks. I can’t even say what I mean by that.
We all have different notions of truth and reality. Questions of form pertain to structure. Sidewalks, bridges, mathematical equations. I can dig this aspect of it. I get silly and mean when I hear about form in the rarefied settings of the university lecture hall and art gallery and museum. You get a bunch of Ph.ds together on a panel and you’ve got a major headache in the making. Water goes softly into the air but not Ph.ds. They overcomplicate everything.
Perhaps I am being a little unfair. I know I’m being unfair. Ph.Ds have invested a great deal of time and money in obfuscation. I should learn to have a higher opinion of obfuscation. There can be no poetry without obfuscation. Or am I confusing obfuscation with ambiguity?
Ambiguity gives form a multi-dimensionality, a revolving-door exchange of ideas that turn vagabond in the country and dialectical on the sofa. But this is not obfuscation. This is dissemination. Inspissation. Imbrication.
Words thicken in passion. Meaning trickles through them like boiling water trickles through finely ground coffee beans in a coffee filter. Meaning meaning is always implicit. It percolates. The more it is pondered the more potent it becomes in its potentiality. The tincture grows silly with polysemy and drift. Footing is less secure. Can it be that this is the reason young men are so attracted to the idea of duty? Of following orders? Is it a matter of gender? Are young women also drawn to swords and shiny buttons and assholes barking orders in the crisp dawn air?
I live in a culture that prides itself on how efficiently it kills people. Poetry is despised. It is frowned on like a disease. It’s easy to see why. Militancy involves rigor. Narrowness. Rigidity. Poetry is the opposite of that. It is a form of meandering. Of submergence and aberration. It feeds on anomaly. So that the forms it assumes vary wildly. So much so that the whole question of form becomes a problem bordering on hallucination. And is, ultimately, seditious. It usurps certainty. So that killing people with drones is a patent impossibility.
Even when I find someone disgusting and repellent in the extreme I have to question myself and ask if I am being overly judgmental, if my perception of that person is skewed, if my perceptions are enfeebled or distorted by an abscess of unfocused rage. And let me tell you it’s maddening. It leads to fantasies of living in the wild west in the 19th century and leading a very different kind of life. Not the life of Henry James, that I can assure you.
Nature, according to Aristotle, is an inner principle of change and being at rest This means that when an entity moves or is at rest its nature may serve as an explanation of the event. The nature of the entity is in and of itself sufficient to induce and to explain the process once the relevant circumstances do not preempt it.
A jug or bottle is shaped a certain way in order to contain wine or water but also so that it may be handled easily when it comes time to pour the wine or water out of the jug. But this is not the case with words. The desk is oak but the words are chimeras. Spirits flutter above the sand. Prospero stands on the shore and creates a storm. He puts the world into chaos to achieve his ends. How does a person acquire such power? This is the power of the poet as it was imagined by Shakespeare. And really, how sad it is when you think about the reality of the poet’s situation. The agitations that go into creating a form. As if it were aform of brocade. An embellishment of thread. A pattern raised on cloth. Perceptions shaped into lobsters. Ducks. Bed springs. It isn’t insoluble just a little nuts. Experience shapes perception. Perception shapes experience. And somewhere in between is the notion of form. Purple swans on a black lake.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful stuff, John.