Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lamp and Animal

I've been waiting for awhile now to know, to discover, a meaning for the series of poems I wrote late in 2006-- Dialogue with Animal. A single poem composed from a collection of ten fragments, Dialogue received the humiliation it deserved during workshop; it was sloppy, and didn't heed conventions or care for its audience. But I knew it was important-- I knew that what it had to say was beyond my understanding.
A note on that: I've long held this two-fold conception of my own consciousness, though I've only recently considered the "shadow" my observing eye may cast on its own consciousness, the perceptual distortion that this observation may cause; the difficulty of considering my own consideration. But this is what I've believed, how I've spoken of it to myself: that my mind has its music both in and under language-- that language brings thought into light, but that there is unlit thought happening out-of-view. Animal thought, perhaps. I recognize that there are all kinds of problems with this belief, yet I can't help but persist in it. And so I consider poetry a means of bringing the unlit into the light when I don't have the language to consciously do so-- bringing the thought my mind is making into language, into view, via images, figures, incantations. I don't mean to make this into a religious phenomenon-- I don't believe it is, at least not any more so than anything else. The belief is simply that there is thought under language, outside of communication. And the reason I believe this is because I feel as though I've observed it in myself.
Anyway, in Dialogue there are two characters-- a lamp and an animal. They live together in a coffin, which is a figure of a human body-- at least that's how I've interpreted it. I've held the lamp/animal division to be simple Cartesian dualism, for the most part: the lamp is the "soul" and the animal is the "flesh," though my view of it also carried a Pauline dichotomy-- flesh-as-sinfulness and spirit-as-godliness. I held this view of the poem, but knew that it wasn't entirely correct, not complete, especially considering how the poem ends (the lamp and animal devise a method of both "rising from the dead" by tying themselves together with a red cord, thereby tricking Death. Angry, he repays them by tying them so tightly together with the red cord that they become one. I wasn't sure what it might mean for the "soul" and "body" to be fused together by Death.)
But I've been reading Heidegger, and his problem with Cartesian dualism-- what he sees as its shortcoming. He argues that it uncritically assumes the thinking subject, the I; that "the question of the kind of Being which belongs to the knowing subject is left entirely unasked." Heidegger sees his task as one of destroying Descartes' dogmatic cogito Sum, and the conception of the ego as a non-extending soul-substance, thinking-substance, different than extended, earthy-substance. Heidegger wants to destroy the idea of man as a two-natured creature, res cogitans and res extensa, and the attending idea of man's subject/object relationship with the world, and he wants to replace it with what I am still having trouble comprehending: man as Being-in-the-world. Man's essence is in his existence, rather than in his knowing of an outside world. Knowing is a way of being.
Death too plays a role in Heidegger's philosophy. It is through a correct conception of one's own death, in Being-towards-death [death is one's "ownmost potentiality-for-being, non-relational, and not to be outstripped], that our individual self is cleared out, and we have angst in the face of finite Being-in-the-world. It is through this death-given individuation that Dasein is allowed to want to be its Self, and it is through this death-given individuation that Dasein can be open to discovering truth, and having a meaningful resoluteness of action.
And I begin to feel a foggy inkling of what the poem may have been striving to report.


Ryan Hofer said...

yeah, guess I need to read Heidegger, or at least talk to you about him. Does he suggest any tests to ascertain one's journey towards being in the world?

Marisa said...

My little illustrated book letter from animal makes more sense now. Although I think deep inside my head I've always understood it. Has it not been said before that death tied our souls as one with our bodies? Or was that life?!

White wing