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Essay

Mimesis and Movies: Plato, Kurusawa & Kiarostami

Karan Tekwani discusses Rashomon and Certified Copy in light of Platonic Philosophy

“…what questions this will to truth has already laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions!”

“What in us really wants ‘truth’?”

“… we want truth: why not rather untruth?”

Beyond Good and Evil, 1886, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche begins his book, Beyond Good and Evil, with a series of questions challenging the “will to truth”. “Will to truth” can be defined as the human tendency to attach overriding importance to the quest of true knowledge. Perplexed by this obsession with truth, Nietzsche takes up in his later works a fierce critique at the “unconditional will to truth”.

Beyond Good and Evil opens with two important questions challenging the centrality and value of truth. The first question, “What in us really wants ‘truth’?”, concerns the psychological ground of human commitment to truth. The second question —  “Why not rather untruth?”–  is regarding the moral value man ascribes to truth over untruth. 

Plato banished all the poets from his ideal society.

The locus of this dramatic gesture can be found in the dialogues of Book X of Republic, where Plato has Socrates conclude, “we can admit no poetry in our city save only hymns to the gods and the praises of good men” (471). The reasons poets cannot be admitted into the ideal society, “are both epistemological and moral, but whatever the reason they have a word in common: mimesis” (Melberg, 10). Poetry, argues Socrates delivers untrue knowledge, because it offers a second hand imitation of an already second hand imitation. When a carpenter makes his platonic bed, he takes a step away from the ideal form. When a painter paints this bed, he moves even further away. “This, then” settles Socrates, “will apply to the maker of tragedies also, if he is an imitator (mimetes) and is in his nature three removes from the king and the truth, as are all other imitator” (464). This theory of mimesis, that discredits the value of poetry, works at two ends. At the first end we have the assumption that a central “ideal truth” exists and at the final end we presume that an imitation is always of less value.

Nietzsche’s questions, that destabilize the authority and worth of truth, are in direct contrast with Plato’s assumptions, establishing the centrality and value of truth. The questions that Nietzsche asked challenge Plato’s assumptions, giving rise to a new set of possibilities. What if we do not want truth? What if there is no truth? What if untruth is the truth? What if untruth is as valuable as truth? The paper proposes to explore all of these possibilities.

This essay evaluates the fundamental assumptions of Plato’s theory of mimesis, in light of Nietzsche’s questions concerning the “will to truth”. It undertakes this examination through a discussion of two movies:  Rashomon (1950) and Certified Copy (2010). The use of films to critique the assumptions is in line with Plato’s use of the word mimesis “with a primarily visual significance; mimesis suggests image, a visual image related to imitation, re-presentation” (Melberg, 10). And concludes by discussing the influence that Plato’s assumptions have had throughout centuries since their conception.

The theory of mimesis rests on the idea that there exists an ideal form, that poetry cannot capture. This ideal truth is conceived by the God and every attempt of the artist, be it carpenter or painter or poet, takes him a step away from this true reality. This centrality of truth has had such a captive hold over human mind, that in the past few decades various search projects have been undertaken to ascertain the true form of numerous artistic imitations.

The British historian Geoffery Ashe in his The Discovery of King Arthur claims to have identified the “original Arthur” in the fifth-century King Riothamus. In his Robin Hood: An Historical Inquiry, John G. Bellamy argues that the prototype of Robin Hood can be traced to thirteenth-century Robert Hode, a valet to Edward II. Abert Boime, professor of art history, in his paper presented at American Astronomical Society, stated that the night sky in Van Gogh’s famous painting “Starry Night” corresponds to the astronomical facts of June 19, 1889. But what if all these search endeavours are futile? What if neither Riothamus nor Robert Hode nor the astronomical facts are the actual true forms? What if all these, supposedly, true forms are subjective versions of truth themselves? What if there is no central truth to hold authority? Building upon this lack of centrality of truth, Nietzsche in the section four of Beyond Good and Evil writes:

“…we are fundamentally inclined to claim that the falsest judgements are the most indispensable for us that without accepting the fictions of logic, without measuring reality against the purely invented world of the unconditional and self-identical, without a constant falsification of the world by means of numbers, man could not live — that renouncing false judgements would mean renouncing life and a denial of life.”

Nietzsche argues that most untrue forms occupy the positions of central truth. The evidence and argument mechanism, employed to verify facts, does not apply to these untrue truths because these untruths become the “conditions of life”. There is nothing like centrality of ideal truth, every real truth is just an unquestioned untruth. Therefore, Nietzsche questions, “What in us really wants ‘truth’?”

This absence of central truth is best exemplified by Akira Kurosawa’s movie Rashomon. Rashomon literalizes the possibility of multiple untruths contesting to be the central true version.

Brimming with action, Rashomon is Kurosawa’s exploration into the idea that there is no absolute truth. The movie is about a rape and murder, and five different versions of the same incident. Influenced by their subjective perspectives, a priest, a bandit, a wife, a samurai (through a medium) and a woodcutter (who initially offers false story, the correct version), narrate their individual experiences. In absence of any significant clues, the audience cannot tell whose version is true. Kurosawa does not want the audience to decide who is telling the truth, the point is: truth is not absolute, it is relative. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy defines relativism as

“… the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them.”

Each of the characters in the movie espouse truth relative to their ethical, moral, cultural and social backgrounds. In the bandit’s version of the events, he is presented as a skilful fighter. The wife makes sure that her narrative showcases her as a devoted loyal wife. In the samurai’s story, told through a medium, the samurai is portrayed as a heroic man who kills himself when he disgraced by his wife. Though initially in his account the woodcutter does not confess, he later informs that he picked up the lady’s dagger and sold it in the market. Through this relativity of truth Kurosawa highlights that there is no central truth. The fundamental idea of Plato’s theory of mimesis, that there is an ideal true form, collapses when viewed in light of Rashomon’s belief in relativity of truth.

Another idea fundamental to Plato’s concept of mimesis is that only originals are valuable. The conclusion of the theory of mimesis is that since imitative poetry is thrice removed from reality, it is not valuable. According to Plato, any art form divorced from the stamp of truth is not worthy of appreciation. This idea that truth and value are sacrosanct has become prominent in past few decades when means of replication are easily available.

In 2010, the National Gallery of London staged an exhibition entitled Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries to showcase the various high-tech devices capable of attributing a work of art as authentic. But what if original work is missing? What if the value of fake is more than the original form? What if the fake displaces the original? Developing this argument regarding the value of fake, Nietzsche writes in section two of Beyond Good and Evil:

“For all the value that the true, the truthful, the selfless may deserve, it would be possible that a higher and more fundamental value for life might have to be ascribed to deception, selfishness and lust.”

Nietzsche’s challenges the supremacy sanctioned to truth, arguing that untruth may be equally valuable. The fake can exhibit quality deserving to an original. If untruth is as worthy as truth, “Why not rather untruth?”. This argument rings a scene from Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, when Elle takes James to see a painting in a museum, that had long been considered authentic but was eventually revealed as a copy. Similar to this painting, Kiarostami’s movie blurs the difference between the original and fake.

Certified Copy, released in the same year as the National Gallery exhibition on fakes, unmasks the absurdity of the dichotomy of original and copy. Certified Copy deals with a mysterious relationship between a British writer James Miller (played by William Shimell) and a French art gallery owner Elle (Elle is French for she, played by Juliette Binoche).

James is on a visit in Italy to promote his non-fiction art history book, also called, Certified Copy and Elle invites him to spend a day with her. Elle drives James to Tuscany museum to see a painting called “original copy” that is related to the subject of his book. The museum guide explains, “This is the famous Muse Polimnia, the portrait of a woman, whose dramatic story is told on the cartel next to the painting. For years, this painting was believed to be Roman Art. It wasn’t until the 20th century about 50 years ago, that it was revealed to be the work of a skilled forger from Naples. However, the museum decided to conserve this fabulous portrait as an original. It is actually as beautiful as the original.”

However, contrary to Elle’s expectations, James does not seem captivated. On being asked what did he earn James responds, “They say how much they adore the picture. But they say it is a copy and the original is somewhere around”. James is upset that the painting’s status as a copy, denies acknowledgement of its artistic merit. After this museum visit, James and Elle go for a coffee to café, where the film’s key moment in terms of narrative twist takes place. While James steps outside to attend a call a call, the café owner an old lady, addresses James and Elle as married and Elle does nothing to correct her. Elle keeps up the pretence as they talk of marriage, work and fidelity.

Eventually, a subtle but a meaningful gesture occurs, the old lady steps in front of the seated Elle, blocking her from audience’s view, bends over and whispers something into her ear. After this moment, the distinctions between the real and fake are blurred in the movie. When James returns, both James and Elle act as if they have been married for fifteen years.

It becomes nearly impossible to decipher if the couple are strangers pretending to be married or spouses role-playing strangers. Just as the fake painting had been considered original, the audience realises that what they had believed to be reality was pretence. And now seems to be pretence can be the true reality. Unlike Plato, who works with neat distinctions between the original and the fake to ascribe value to the original, Kiarostami merges the difference between the real and fake to illustrate that untruth can be equally valuable as truth.

Plato’s idea of mimesis marked a turning point in the history of Greek ideas. The assumptions made by Plato: the centrality of truth and the value of truth, were unprecedented in Western thought. Jean Pierre Vernant notes, “Prior to Plato Greek culture regarded images as an actualization or ‘presentification’ of what they represent. Archaic statues of Gods, for example, were understood not simply as illusionistic depictions of a deity but as an actual revelation of a divinity that otherwise be invisible” (Mathew).

This is similar to what James said in his lecture in the movie, “The copy leads us to a better understanding of the original” (Certified Copy). The ancient Greek art, before Plato, was not regarded as derogatory imitation but a means to achieve the immaterial. However, Plato’s idea of mimesis brings a fundamental shift in this trend, by introducing the central authority of truth. Art now becomes a periphery to this centre; whose value is always inferior to the true form.

The true form becomes the standard against which the merit of art is judged. In spite of these changes, the universal appeal of mimesis cannot be denied. Plato’s idea has been discussed, adopted and even challenged, both directly and indirectly, by writers, film directors and critics, throughout the centuries. Its universality is evident in the case studies of this paper: an Iranian director in his French movie of 2010, uses a concept discussed by a Japanese director in his 1950 movie. Plato’s concept of mimesis with its assumptions, has percolated centuries, nationalities and even art forms.

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Acknowledgement

The idea of this paper came from the classroom discussions with Mr. Naveen Panniker in his Literary Criticism classes on Plato’s Book X.

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Karan Tekwani is a postgraduate student at Delhi University. He is passionate about world cinema and wishes to pursue cinema studies in future. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Essay

The Poet as Warrior

                                    (Dedicated to Kai Coggin)

By Dustin Pickering

W. H. Auden’s poem “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” is often quoted to dismiss the importance of poetry as a form of social justice. The current fashion among poets is that poetry can revolutionize social inequalities, make positive changes, build empathy for marginalized groups, and convey information about causes important to the poet. For example, Robert Huddleston writes in Boston Review, “In its day, W. H. Auden’s claim that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ was a necessary reproof to an ideologically mandated culture of protest that had a chokehold on the literary left in the 1930s, an example it remains important to consider today. Clashes over the political rights and wrongs of poetry, then as now, are often disguised contests over cultural and academic turf, ideological purity, and even the relative priority of criticism versus artistic practice.” He is correct concerning the cultural war that cloaks literary discussion. Literary figures and public intellectuals are often chided for their implicit biases. However, I conceive of the poem as saying something drastically different; I do not see it as being a political rebuttal at all, but rather serving as one within a larger context.

Auden’s poem contains these lines:

…For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives

In the valley of its making where executives

Would never want to tamper, flows on south

From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,

Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,

A way of happening, a mouth.

The poem carefully navigates the terrain of the unchangeable dimensions of political life. However, it clears a safe space for the poem as a thing of its own. Poetry does not instigate events; rather, it is an event itself. The day remains cold for Yeats’s death, and his poetry lives beyond him through the many misinterpretations it will face. “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” defies the culture war to uphold the dignity of the human spirit to which poetry testifies. Auden once defended Pound from censorship by his publisher. He said anti-fascism will become the new fascism. The publisher relented and granted Pound a space in the anthology. In this course, Auden defends the integrity of the poet as a person whose work dignifies the ideal humanity. In this respect he clears a space for poetic license because a poet must spend their life empting themselves.

No, poetry makes nothing happen. It is an event itself. It is the fire of intellect applied to the cold apathy and spiritual destitution we suffer. As protest against the human condition, it becomes universal in its design.

Hence poetry is spiritual warfare. The poet is a paradigm for virtue. The contemporary world now challenges the absolute freedom of the visionary. It is historically stated that the visionary should be exempt from moral considerations. Recent shifts in consciousness concerning this attitude are becoming mainstream. The UK Telegraph reports, “Janet Marstine, Honorary (Retired) Associate Professor, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, added: ‘The National Gallery has taken an important step in acknowledging that it is no longer ethically tenable to interpret in an aesthetic vacuum. An artist’s position in the Western canon does not make them immune from accountability.’” The visionary in question at the National Gallery is Paul Gauguin. He is under question for exploiting the myth of the noble savage for his sexual and financial gain. The moral dilemma posed by such considerations does not discount the artistry or accomplishments of individual artists. Its intent is to hold artists accountable for immoral behaviour. The hope in the #metoo era is these considerations will keep living artists accountable rather than giving them license to act uninhibited, and influence the broader society.

Vincent van Gogh, a friend of Gauguin who he accused of insanity, wrote, “The way to know life is to love many things.” Van Gogh is historically considered a misunderstood visionary who underwent severe lifetime disappoint and failure. His legacy is a myth of its own. He was expelled from his church where he was minister. His father thought of him as a lunatic with stupid ideas. However, he is also considered a beautiful person who showed the world a light it misses in so much conflict. Don McClean wrote of van Gogh, “The world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”

These two towering figures in art leave us with widely divergent displays of personal conduct. Van Gogh’s misconduct is chalked up to a serious mental health issue, but Gauguin is a sexual deviant who exploited the European assumption of the noble savage. What can be learned from these patterns? Emerging views of artists’ conduct have more at stake than aesthetic considerations. They are the battleground of the purpose of ideas. Gauguin’s art and moral conduct are under question not because his art is unpleasing, but because ideas hold power: we must take into account how ideas can effect culture and the treatment of others. Misconceptions of indigenous people have serious repercussions historically. Our worldview must consider that others are right to their cultural experience without infringement. This is where the culture war stems.

If we conceive a race as inferior, does our conduct toward them change? Gauguin is not being questioned as much as an entire colonialist legacy and how it shapes the behaviour within the culture that adopts it. Human dignity is universal; a person should never be treated as inferior. Perhaps we are right to question history so vapidly, and demand the culture at large change. The most important thing may be a humanist conception of world culture. Those who deny it are perhaps harming not only others, but also degrading themselves.

The culture war is the domain of values and whose values develop dignity in the human heart. Art is one of the most developed and poignant tools to communicate values. The Marshall Plan advanced capitalism throughout Europe using art to influence people. Culture is what stands as testimony to prevalent attitudes, reactions to those attitudes, and the historical presence of a people. We are right to subject it to deeper inquiry.

In fact, I would consider a moral duty to question historical circumstance through art. Duty is defined in the Bhagavad Gita, “It is better to do one’s own duty, however defective it may be, than to follow the duty of another, however well one may perform it. He who does his duty as his own nature reveals it, never sins.” This offers a subtext for individuality. Art is the historical realm of the individual—they who create art are the most developed in ideas. One’s heart will reveal one’s purpose. St. Paul writes in Romans 12:2 (KJV), “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” The world’s major faiths are abundant in praises of nonconformity. As St. Paul carefully describes, interpreting the will of God is a struggle. One must resist pressures external to oneself. Sometimes one must question oneself deeply to find the moral current within. Jihad, or “struggle”, is spiritual warfare in three senses: against one’s own temptations, against one’s peers, and in defense of one’s territory. Aristotle wrote, “Wicked men obey from fear; good men, from love.” The perennial wisdom seems to be of the consensus that morality is deeply personal, and one’s character is deeply revelatory. Art is where the person speaks honestly with high eloquence. Art itself is action. How much of artistic achievement depends on cultural consensus? Is art rather a defiance of consensus, bearing more of the soul of the artist than their times? A moral purpose should derive from the inner life, and counter the wheel of consensus in bare revolt. John Milton writes in Paradise Lost:

“A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”

Vatsala Radhakeesoon, contemporary poet of Mauritius, grants insight into the nature of freedom, character, and morality of being in her poem “Unconditional Thread”:

Born from
the Divine’s golden thread
Molded with
perfection, purity and grace
I’m the invisible heart –
the unconditional thread
ruling the universe

I’m soft
I’m generous
I’m not from
the Mundane
the materialistic world
the uncanny competitive rules

I’m omnipresent
but recognized, seen
only by the unadulterated

I, Unconditional Thread
survive in immortal realms
and go on whispering
in every ear
“ Love, love and love
discarding mental blocks
and embracing spontaneity.”

A poet warrior embraces compassion, action, duty, and dream. Henry Miller writes, “All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience.” One’s leap becomes one’s light. The darkness illumined is one’s spiritual landmark. To seek beyond one’s perilous comfort is an act of defiance in a world where complacency is sanctified. The artist’s presence stirs the world from sleep if they are securing their foundations. Ultimately, we are clueless about life: where it takes us, what it means, how we cope with it. We engage in symbolic acts of protest and incite civil discussion on important issues. Papers are published on every subject; scholars shake their fists at apathy and ignorance. Theories emerge from data and trends. Life’s most recent turn provides us with newfound perspectives. Once the trend is fulfilled, new storms rage on the horizon. Science is continuously revising and incorporating new facts and figures. There is nothing steady in the order we endure; in fact, to call it order defies its purpose.

In such a world of flux, kindness is even spirited defiance. In “Kindness”, Naomi Shihab Nye carefully constructs the meaning of kindness in counterintuitive language:

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt weakened in a broth.

What you held in your hand,

What you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Walter Pater writes in The Conclusion to The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Ideas, “Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which comes naturally to many of us. Only be sure it is passion—that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness.” Kindness is passion. Etymologically speaking, “passion” reflects suffering, endurance, and loss. Compassion means to “suffer with”; hence, Nye’s poetic rendering of kindness defines it as passion.

St. Francis of Assisi writes in “Praises of the Christian Virtues” of the three virtues of Wisdom, Poverty, and Charity that “Whoever possesses one virtue without offending the others, possesses them all.” Guatama Buddha is recorded as saying something profoundly similar, “We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by loving kindness, make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it.” In the doctrines of Buddhism, the problem of suffering is rooted in attachment. Attachment pertains to physical things, mental habits, and stubborn attitudes. When one is attached, the object of attachment invokes fear of its loss, and can trap the mind in unhealthy suffering. In Sanskrit, the word samsara translates “it flows together.” In  Hinduism and Buddhism, the concept signifies worldliness, attachment, and the cycle of rebirth and suffering. To be released from this cycle one must be released of oneself and desire. This state of enlightenment is called Nirvana.

Octavio Paz, poet and ambassador of Mexico to India, writes in “Perpetua Incarnada”:

Hour by hour I saw him slide

wide and happy like a river

shadow and light linked its shores

and a yellow swirl

single monotonous intensity

the sun set in its center

Then he writes:

I ask for strength I ask for detachment

open the eyes

unharmed evidence

between the clarities that are canceled

Not the abolition of images

the incarnation of pronouns

the world that we all invented

sign town

and in its center

Solitary

Perpetual incarnate

one half woman

peña manantial the other

Word of all with whom we speak alone

I ask that you always accompany me

man reason

This poem reflects an existential loneliness but it extends into territories much broader. He asks prayerfully that the world be returned to the state of the ‘Word’ from its embodiment of images. Once again, we return to Pater in his essay on Leonardo da Vinci. “We recognise one of those symbolical inventions in which the ostensible subject is used, not as a matter for definite pictorial realisation, but as the starting point of a train of sentiment, subtle and vague as a piece of music.”

 In “Flux and Movement in Walter Pater’s Leonardo Essay” critic Lene Østermark-Johansen writes, “The body which twists around its own spine creates the illusion of moving from one extreme to another thus resulting in a kind of harmony of opposites, a concordia discours.” This statement not only describes drawings and sculpture, but applies to rhetoric also. The concept of Self is illusion because all things contain their opposites. One cannot step in the same river twice. We are the river, and our Self is a form within the flux of promissory existence. We are granted time within this cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. As the Cross represents redemption, one reaches Nirvana by letting go. Christ is reborn to demonstrate he can conquer the forces of death.

 Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche writes, “The Shambhala teachings are founded on the premise that there is basic human wisdom that can help solve the world’s problems… Shambhala vision teaches that, in the face of the world’s problems, we can be heroic and kind at the same time.” A warrior poet sets the world aright through their heroism, but what does setting the world aright mean exactly? According to Shambhala: the sacred path of the warrior, the world must restore its focus to human dignity.

Mirabai writes:

O friend, I sit alone while the world sleeps.
In the palace that held love’s pleasure
the abandoned one sits.
She who once threaded a necklace of pearls
is now stringing tears.
He has left me. The night passes while I count stars.
When will the Hour arrive?
This sorrow must end. Mira says:
Lifter of Mountains, return.

– “The Necklace”               

We cannot restore dignity alone. Existential dread implies that as individuals we are alone to choose and must live with that responsibility. In her abandonment, Mirabai still affirms her dignity as God’s beloved. She calls to God to return. This reflects the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth as eternal flux which harmonises with our physical existence. God is with us. Christ is ever present in our domain of suffering.

It is no coincidence that Paz concludes his poem with the words “I ask to be obedient to this day and tonight.”

U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo writes in “The Myth of Blackbirds”:

“Justice is a story by heart in the beloved country where imagination weeps. The sacred mountains only appear to be asleep…We cannot be separated in the loop of mystery between blackbirds and the memory of blackbirds.”

Myth is a cultural awakening. Being “alone to choose” does not defer human dignity or one’s relationship to the divine because we are creatures of memory. As Plato reflected, learning is remembering what one already knows. Such a cycle is not promising. It is eternal.

 We are ripe with questioning historical errors in this period of history. “The emergence of pessimistic philosophies is by no means a sign of some great and terrible distress; rather, these question marks regarding the worth of life arise when the human condition has been so improved and ameliorated that the mosquito bites of the body and soul are found too altogether gruesome and gory, and in their poverty of experience of actual pain, people will even take being troubled by ideas to be suffering of the highest order,” writes Nietzsche in The Joyous Science. Is our ability and right to assess history as such a privilege offered by our affluence and security? It was the intellectual who once hid in ivory towers. Now, do we all live in ivory towers with epigenetic fears and concerns?

Such a question does not demean our relative poverty, private traumas, failures and shortcomings, or deprivation. What it suggests is we have plateaued to become so complacent and unconcerned that it requires serious tragic thinking to stir our imaginations. We may long for suffering; yes, we may hunger for the cross. As they say, comedy is born of tragedy. Is the opposite also true?

Wendy Chen-Tanner describes Kai Coggin’s collection Wingspan in the following words: “Wingspan is a book about becoming, transforming, and unfurling into the fullness of selfhood in all its disparate parts.” The human soul fluxes and fades with the human condition. Being is Becoming. This discovery of the fullness of being is impressively expressed in “Everything Silver/Artemis and Her Lover.” Students of Greek myth know the story of Actaeon and his tutelage under Chiron. When he witnesses Artemis bathing, she turns him from hunter to the hunted. Coggin’s poem is deeply personal. She observes the two as lovers experiencing oneness together. She writes:

“I will watch them,

the hunter and the hunted,

these lovers mounted in the stars,

I will watch them,

and wish for an arrow to fall from the sky into my open heart.”

Aside from the sheer beauty of these lines, the poet transforms herself into hunted for the sake of the poem. Perhaps it is self-voyeurism—the poem is solitary in tone. Gazing into the attic of her heart, Coggin sees the night sky and the eternal myth of huntress and hunted. The ebb and flow of life enchants the poet deeply and she wishes to be one with it. The opening phrase “attic of my heart” parallels the night sky and symbolically suggests yearning for oneness. Chen-Tanner’s description is impressively accurate. Jeremy Taylor writes in Psychology Today, “The universally experienced world of dreams and dreaming has always been a deep mystery, ever since the first confusing hints of self-awareness arose in our instinctively nervous, curious mammalian ancestors. Awakening and remembering that we were dreaming just a moment ago always suggests that we live in two successively alternating worlds – one of made of dreams, and the other composed of our waking experiences.” The article (“The Expanse of Our Unconscious is as Immense as the Night Sky”) combines psychology with evolutionary principles to explain the interconnectedness of the dream and waking worlds. Poetically rendered, Taylor incidentally offers insight into the importance of myth. Our minds are myth-makers in their own right. The bridge between self-awareness and yearning, our ancestral past and myth, is accentuated in the story of Actaeon and Artemis. Coggin immortalises them in the starry fixtures of night. The hunter and hunted are not only archetypes, but also offer a dialectical conversation with oneself. Akin to Hegel’s master and servant dialectic, the need for truth anticipates struggle and dissipation.

 Coggin’s poems are rich in spiritedness, thoughtfulness, and hope. Hope strives for unity of self, toward knowledge of one’s desires, and deeper into the wilderness of dream. The dialectic flips on itself as the wise hunter becomes the hunted—his desires are too stubborn to resist, and he is transfixed by the translucent beauty of the immortal. He ascends into fatherhood by transfiguration into his master’s image. The transfiguration is an exact mirror-image of his role as hunter. This reversal is symbolically important because it reflects a registry of Becoming. Revolutionary ideas shrivel into double standards, mimicry of their exactness, and memory. Hope is a struggle against the unfathomable and inevitable decline of meaning. It is assertive. Like energy within neurological structures, it dissipates and connects. The mind is forever incorporating the ancient and traumatic into meaning.

 Andrea Gibson writes of Coggin’s Periscope Heart, “Kai Coggin’s Periscope Heart is beauty mapping the dark, a canyon of becoming and letting go.”

I want to learn you like a language,

speak you on my tongue until I am

no longer foreign to your body…

Periscope Heart feels more personal. In “Language”, loving is compared to constructing a language. In a real sense, myth-making is language. Language is universal mapping, constructing roads through the caverns of being, and developing a common language. Powerful insight serves as the poet’s resolution.

Dorothy Day writes, “To offer the suffering of celibacy, temporary or permanent, to the Lord is to make use, in the best possible way, of man’s greatest joy.” Such is the world we live in, Day writes, that “The lack of tenderness in people’s relations with each other, tenderness expressed by warmth of voice and speech, handclasp and embrace–in other words, the warmth of friendship–lack of these things too means a concentration on sex, and the physical aspects, the animal aspects of sex.” Poet and reviewer Jagari Mukhergee writes in “Metapoem”:

“My poems are vinyl dolls that I make for you sketching in eyes and nose and lips with watercolor ink. My poems are glass lanterns — every time one is lit on nights when the soul has no electricity from within… My poems are a dusty tempest seething. Each a life.”

The warrior poet brings light to the world. Her tenderness is chastity and her self-love is universal nature. Her tears water the foundations of our aching existence. Our longings are satisfied in her dissolutions and dreams. The warrior poet is the self within each person.

Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.