“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Take the Dark Ecology Challenge 3: Where's My Romantic Irony?

Juliana Spahr's Gently Now, Don't Add to the Heartache seems to lack a crucial element of dark ecology: Romantic irony.

Yes, it sets up a world only to tear it to shreds. This is exquisitely painful.

But this is where the poem is less than disorienting. (Thus it doesn't quite work as a consummate piece of constructivism, IMO; which is what it's trying to be.)

The subject position from which the elegiac ripping is staged is never undermined. How could the poem do this? Through Romantic irony: the realization that the narrator is the protagonist.

Now of course what I call Romantic irony version 1.0 happens: this is simply the chorismos between the narrating We and the narrated We. That's kind of a default irony common to any statement.

And perhaps version 2.0 begins to happen. Something like the creepy awareness that we did it. We caused the catastrophe. But this is not stated from a position of vertigo, of unsureness—the poem seems profoundly sure of itself.

And nowhere is there version 3.0: the full dress, Shawshank Redemption style in which the entire poem is about the realization of Romantic irony.

What we have then is something like a version 1.5. A teetering on the edge of beautiful soul syndrome. Perhaps this is a good way to think about the subjective coordinates of beautiful soul syndrome itself. Put this together with the irreversibility I spoke of earlier and you get something like modernity cynicism, not full on ecological awareness. More on this shortly.

How to solve this?

Not sure, I'm not a good poet. But one way would be to include some kind of coda, or an extra set of stanzas, that said something like:

And we realized that from the very beginning of our history, we had been androids. There never was a Nature from which we are now separated.
This subjective destitution is happening precisely at the moment at which we achieve ecological planetary awareness.
Oh fuck.

1 comment:

Heidi Lynn Staples said...

interesting points about spahr's work. thanks!