Saturday, November 16, 2013

Benjamin's way of thinking poetically

Yesterday, I read again Hannah Arendt's introduction to the Walter Benjamin book Illuminations. I was especially struck by some things near the end:

To him, therefore, language was by no means primarily the gift of speech which distinguishes man from other living beings, but, on the contrary, "the world essence...from which speech arises." 
Thus there is "a language of truth, the tensionless and even silent depository of the ultimate secrets which all thought is concerned with." 
What else does this mean than that he understood language as an essentially poetic phenomenon? 
All of which says no more, though in a slightly more complex way, than what I mentioned before -- namely, that we are dealing here with something which may not be unique but is certainly extremely rare: the gift of thinking poetically.

Okay. This especially struck me not only for its putting Benjamin into deep perspective but also for its possible application to my thoughts about the art of poetry.

There are some -- rare -- poets out there in time and space whose poems are very strange and wonderful things. Those poems are as different from most poems as night is to day. Not different approaches but different species or something.

Certain remarkable poems seem to implicitly -- subconsciously -- acknowledge the Arendt-Benjamin view of language -- how it's not the same as speaking or writing. Rather, language is the silent essence of the world. Behind words -- nouns in particular -- is the fathomless and mysterious vibration of whole tones, so to speak. This unheard sounding of the world takes place, as Benjamin put it, within a "metaphysical acoustic."

So, we have a few poets whose work stands out for its special relation to language, for its reaching into metaphor as an act or expression of (even despairing) wonder. These poets allow the world to "sound" through trance-moments of refined figures of speech and through the open, questing attitude of their lines.

From March 1979
by Tomas Tranströmer

Weary of all who come with words, words but no language
I make my way to the snow-covered island.
The untamed has no words.
The unwritten pages spread out on every side!
I come upon the tracks of deer in the snow.
Language but no words.

trans. Robert Fulton

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for introducing me to Benjamin and your own soundings.