68. Poetries – the worth of words

If one tethers one’s heart severely and imprisons it, one can give one’s spirit infinite liberties.”
Nietzsche, Beyond good & Evil, (section 87)

You must confess to loving connections. Connections may in fact be what you/we live for and what enable us to live. A good, unexpected or imaginative connection seems to give you, your life and your thoughts a certain crucial vitality. While a dearth of connections amounts to a kind of stultifying impasse or inertia.

Last week, shortly after connecting Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr. Turner’ to Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ you watched yet another biopic, this time of Nelson Mandela and his ‘Long Walk to Freedom’. The Tempest features an image of magic books at the heart of Prospsero’s power. It also repeatedly attends to the concept of ‘freedom’.

Thus, the central theme of islands and freedoms, running through all of these examples struck you with a new excitement and you couldn’t help connecting the fact that Mandela’s way of surviving his own life on Robben Island was aided by the magic of a book of Shakespeare’s works smuggled into him. In this image you can see telling lines from Act II, Scene 2 of Julius Caesar marked off by Mandela’s own pen.


Thus, this week, more and more you found yourself thinking about the quality and worth of words and of writing. A few words can be exquisitely chosen, inspired or molded, and thereby last for centuries, while so many (so so) words today (including your own here on this Blog) may simply evaporate, not least as a result of their own carelessness, the lack of value you have invested in them.

These are the thoughts that occasionally make you think of closing your Blog and concentrating on more considered, edited, printed and physically distributed writing. But you don’t want to give up this exploration of the possibilities of this NEW writing and NEW technology.

Recently you were fortunate enough to conduct a seminar based on Walter Benjamin’s wonderful ‘The Storyteller‘ essay, and there, though he marked so much that is and was lost to storytelling  by the intervention of printing, of the novel and then of journalism and ‘information’ he never crudely wrote-off the differences, the gains, the new values made available to writing and to words by new technologies. After all, the novel form, dependent on a certain technology as well as on a certain modern class of people, has provided us with many joys and insights into our humanity, and after all, Jack Kerouac’s relationship with a typewriter is just as much a contribution as is anything written with a pen.

This all makes you want to keep Blogging, as a way to practice your writing, to think about the value of what you do, to try to find, perhaps, and essentially computerised writing, or find this Blog’s real and continuous theme and identity, and of course to enjoy the instant publication effect of sharing with readers and other Bloggers all over the world at the click of a mouse.

Consideration of the quality and brevity and power of words led you to poetry, yet another Biopic, this time of Dylan Thomas, then on to some very moving and educational readings of his fellow countryman RS Thomas’ poems (any appropriate or accurately descriptive adjective or superlative escapes you!) and then – another almost magical connection – to encounter the evening before International Women’s Day a movie called ‘Poetry’ directed by Lee Chang Dong and which is well worthy of a post of its own. Suffice to say that it deals with the immanent crimes (and one diabolical crime in particular) of patriarchy and male nepotism, with all the grace, care and sweetness, silence and soft force of an elderly lady wielding her very first  poem.


Poetry, (2010) directed by Lee Chang Dong and starring Yoon Jeong-hee


But perhaps Walter Benjamin, in his essay ‘The Storyteller‘  came closest to defining what it is that you are actually trying to do here with your own writing, and what perhaps you have been trying to do with your writing since, ohhhh c. 1995.

No you are not an art critic, yes, you are an artist with a certain passion for words, no you cannot call yourself a poet, and yet you are increasingly aware that words have, need and  deserve a certain worth and value, a certain worth, every single one of them, to do their real job, the job which Benjamin found adequately described by the poet Paul Valery when he said:

Artistic observation can attain an almost mystical depth. The objects on which it falls lose their names. Light and shade form very articular systems, present very individual questions which depend upon no knowledge and are derived from no practice, but get their existence and value exclusively from a certain accord of the soul, the eye and the hand of someone who was born to perceive them and evoke them in (their) own inner self.”

So, ‘artistic observation’ will suffice to describe what you like to think is your role, as an artist, writer, photographer, educator, Blogger etc.


Paul Valéry (1871-1945)

BTW this gem turned up while trawling Benjamin with some students this week. It is a treasure you all shared and which you share again now with anyone who comes to this Blog. As with every gem, every treasure, there is a temptation of course to horde it, to keep your secret and your discovery to yourself, to use it for your own gain to help you win instead of losing in the great bourgeois race that is ‘ambition’ and ‘profession’ and ‘career’. And yet, despite all its monstrosities that the inhuman, networked, computerised world brings, it surely also give us something of the very best of humanity in expanding and multiplying our propensity and ability to share. And if writing is not sharing then surely it is nothing.



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