Saturday, May 12, 2007

More Darwinian Poetics

In re-reading the Davie piece in order to compare it with Silliman's New Sentence, I was, once again, compelled to draw comparisons between the evolution of language and our own evolution as as a species. Davie says that most people regard syntax as the "mere skeleton on which are hung the truly poetic elements, such as imagery or rhythm." The skeleton, this syntax is a metaphor, a fossilized reminder that something came before. Davie explains that poetry "can be invertebrate" (like Coolidge's Trilobites) taking it back even deeper into a prehistoric past.
This idea that poetry is the basic, most primitive form of language goes back to Shelley's idea in A Defence of Poetry when he says, "in the infancy of society every author is necessarily a poet..." Fenollosa too, talks about the evolution of language, saying that "pronouns appear a thorn in our evolution theory," implying that the further we move from that initial form (the syntax of the thing) the more we lose. This started me thinking about our own species. Ahh, how super-sophisticated we've become, but does that necessarily make us more evolved? For instance, chimpanzees, our closest living relatives (sharing 96% of our DNA), don't seem to share our penchant for destroying the planet to promote their own greedy self interests. The earth itself seems to be increasingly disturbed by us humans, as our self-inflicted climate change is poised to add us to the list of species that, ultimately, wore out their planetary welcome--to end up as fossilized skeletons on the geological junk heap... Wow, that sure seemed like a rant!

Anyway, back to language..."Sentences integrate into higher levels of meaning," Silliman says, "toward the paragraph." And yet, these "primitive" sentences are, all by themselves, poetic. So then, back to my analogy, perhaps modern linguists are like today's proponents of creationism (or the more PC "intelligent design") and that's why, according to Silliman, "the sentence has been shoved back into the domain of non-investigation." Rather than acknowledge the obvious (that we're simply sophisticated beasts--uh I mean that, with regard to language, more isn't necessarily better) they have overlooked those basic structures in favor of more complex systems. Silliman (and Davie and Shelley and Fenollosa and Pound, et al), like an archeologist, sees the beauty in all of those other bits of language that climbed out of the primordial soup and attempts to reconstruct the skeletons to better understand poetry (chimpanzees).

1 comment:

K. Silem Mohammad said...

Actually, chimpanzees are really pretty nasty, violent, warlike animals. Bonobos are the peaceful ones--they're just into free love and stuff.