Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Self, Variations

Whitman’s expansive self recalls for me what people tell me about atman and Brahman in Hinduism and confirm him as a mystic, in a certain sense.  His “mysticism” is based in “empirical” description but a phenomenon under his description isn’t “just there.”  It’s there as we’ve seen it and experienced it and felt it.  It’s there as it’s run through our brains and been spit out as particular words.  Letting words do their work is simultaneously letting our brains do their work – that’s the entire brain system / body, from head to toe and back again.

I need Whitman’s expansive empirical mysticism, or something like it, from time to time, perhaps often.  However, there can be a disconnect, a bit of the pie in the sky, and this is where I relate sometimes more with some portions of Ashbery, where we have the expanded sense of self but now drastically more finite.  I’ll never get over the first words of his I read years back, the opening of his Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975), opening poem,

            I tried each thing, only some were immortal and free.
            Elsewhere we are sitting in a place where sunlight
            Filters down, a little at a time,
            Waiting for someone to come.  Harsh words are spoken….

            (From J.A., “As One Put Drunk into the Packet-Boat”)

We might start with the air of Icarus before he gets too far, before the emergency, and before a potentially fatal fall and end up sitting right where we are, waiting, in the sun, filtering to a little spot there within eye-shot of a maple, in a squabble.


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