Tuesday, September 29, 2009

what's form for 1

A series of observations through which I hope to get into this subject.

Start, I think, with Aristotle. Form is a way of treating so-called chaos, as one would treat a patient. It was an accepted fact in fifth century BC Athens that reason could be applied to life so as to improve it, Plato's REPUBLIC being an obvious gesture in that direction. The underlying assumption of the Athenian mind (and much mind since) seems to have been that in its natural state life is disorganized and hence to a degree incomprehensible. Hence the need for form. Art may be an imitation of reality, as Aristotle says, but it is also an improvement on it, if only because it allows for an understanding of it. No surprise that the persons saying such things were thinkers, i.e., philosophers. The poets were not allowed in Plato's republic, as Stanley Diamond has told us, because poetry as practiced in Plato's time eschewed reason, in fact celebrated irrationality, believing I would gather in the viability of all that we know in imagination and fear in madness.

Two and a half millenia later, having come to many understandings of life, deep insights, and made many improvements on life or nature as given, we have begun to question the wisdom of human reason. Many scientists, Darwin included, have given us reason to think that nature is by nature logical and that it might be best for us to see the so-called chaos of life as something we have still not reached a sufficient understanding of. That there is form "out there." We even have a name for some of it: Chaos Theory.

This is starting from a long way out, I realize, but I want to suggest that form in poetry is tied to some of the oldest and deepest arguments we've had with ourselves. We have an almost instinctive sense that form is good and formlessness is not, and where we have our greatest differences is in knowing where the boundary between the two lies. It is perhaps a reasonable question to ask, Is anything formless? It is too soon to say, perhaps, but my sense is that if it occurs in language, it probably can't be.