When people ask me why I write what I do, or read the things I do, I tend to use the word ‘mystery’ a lot. Not as in ‘gumshoe’ or ‘whodunnit. I mean, I guess, the sort of mystery that you feel in the back of your head when you watch Kubrick, or listen to Dvorak, or read Shakespeare. The idea of something larger and grander pushing at you, prodding and poking and daring you to be something greater, or at least to understand a little.
My best friend in college and I used to call it “the Know,” a reference to The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Writing is a big part of it. Art is a big part of it. Music, theatre, film–but also science, math, logic, games, beauty, elegance…all kinds of things contribute to it. But I’ve never been able to describe it very well, as you see, though I’ve tried with all my sad meaty little heart to do so. Then I was re-reading some Harold Bloom the other day–his intro to The Best Poems of the English Language, actually. I was moving my books around and picked it up and, like I always seem to do with Bloom, I couldn’t stop once I’d started. Go head, laugh at me describing Bloom as a page-turner. But really, it’s oddly compelling stuff. Anyway, I came upon this section and BOOM. That’s it. That’s my aesthetic. Laid out by someone brilliant and described in (almost) crystal clarity. Damn. Here it is and I’m about to go put this baby on wallet sized cards and carry it with me everywhere:
I think that poetry at its greatest–in Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Blake–has one broad and essential difficulty; it is the true mode for expanding our consciousness. This it accomplishes by what I have learned to call strangeness. Owen Barfield was one of several critics to bring forth strangeness as a poetic criterion. For him, as for Walter Pater before him, the Romantic added strangeness to beauty: Wallace Stevens, a part of this tradition, has a Paterian figure cry out: “And there I found myself more truly and more strange.”…
…Consciousness is the central term here. As Barfield intimates, consciousness is to poetry what marble is to sculpture: the material that is being worked. Words are figurations of consciousness: metaphorical of consciousness, the poet’s words invite us to share in a strangeness.
Yep. Pretty much exactly my thoughts, albeit phrased in a far more succinct, elegant and graceful fashion. This may also explain why I love the Romantics so much. This may explain the “know,” the mystery, the deepening in the back of the head when my conscious is being altered. May it always be so.