January, Poetry and Turning the Page
“The Poet, he nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth. For, as I take it, to lie, is to affirmed that to be true, which is false.” Sir Philip Sidney
At the dawn of a new year I am going to reach further still into the depths of the arts by invoking one of the greatest works of prose in the English language on the subject: Philip Sidney's In Defense Of Poesy, written some time ago in the year of 1580, though according to many scholars that is an approximate date.
As they used to say, A Defense Of Poesy is a classic and canonical, and much like others in his era, most obviously Shakespeare, there is some good in it that can be applied to our situation even today in 2022!
So even if you are not so educated to comprehend all of his many references - to Virgil and Herodotos, Boethius, Heraclitus, Ovid, Petrarch, and (though these are good to read and know of course) you will experience one of the very first major works of pros of its kind in the English language!
He was, to put it mildly a most famous figure in English arts and letters and military and court life. His funeral was one of the largest in English history owing to his death in battle.
As always when I mention individual works of art, as I did with Lena Dunham's Girls in December, or individual periods of historical time like when I have mentioned the 1970s or the 1990s, the aim is not to do a blog post "on" the work of art or era in question at all; rather, it is to offer an improvisatory metaphor of sorts of a further reach of art and culture more generally.
Sidney's work will be linked here thanks to the fine folks at The Poetry Foundation.
I want to emphasize in our particular (and peculiar) moment that our podcast celebrates not only what art is in a definitional sense but also its partial autonomy from other modes of living.
To be more blunt than is my usual style, art is not utilitarian: it is not life or the "real world" as such.
It is not political activism or religious advocacy, nor science or history.
Our podcast wants to remind the world that all too often art is confused with these other admittedly important parts of life. Art is akin to interiority; that this interiority is exteriorized does cause all sorts of controversies and even problems in the world.
But these are not the result of the art itself but from mistaken responses to the art. But art itself is a way of reflecting and trying things out in a separate space from the real world. Sidney felt this way as did some of the Romantics a few centuries after him and who were explicitly influenced by Sidney.
Sidney emphasizes the constructed nature of poetry, one of his favorite examples is that we can encounter figures who are aspirational or ideal, better than those of us in "real" life, and not subject to the particular real world vices of actual, living persons. Yet this is far from the only purpose or meaning in art.
Lena Dunham's Girls from my December post is part of now centuries long project in art of depicting what we could call ordinary people in representation in such a way as to not deny or even emphasize their ordinariness.
As such the figures in that show will be far from free of imperfections.
This gets called realistic by some people. But it is remarkable how recent this is historically, and how we take it for granted - as if it has been with us far longer than it has. One of the reasons why Marvel franchise popular works of art have been so successful is as a counterweight to this I am sure.
People crave traditional heroes as much as they crave the opposite, and also want to see representations of those most like themselves and, at times, most unheroic. We all have our own peculiarities.
One of mine is a love for the quotidian and part of that involves a preference for what you could call the "low key" or the unassuming. It is a real curse and nightmare to be living in an era marked by the most dramatic, large events and the highest stakes.
I have been saying on this podcast in various ways over the past two years that art is connected to a "time out" from daily, consequential life.
And of course one of the functions of a time-out is to figure out things in the real world through a sort of practice. It is a real paradox because it reflects upon very truthful things found in life (the real forms the raw material of art even though art itself is most unreal) but in a imaginary and imaginative space free from the consequences that are inevitably found in the real world.
Thus, as Sidney states it, in a more contemporary phrase, art neither "confirms or denies" in the literal and legalistic way of matters of truth or falsehood.
This meditative, reflective or introspective quality of all art, even the most extroverted and outward looking, is why I associate art with consciousness itself which is always already interior and a matter of some invisibility.
I am forever haunted by the memory of that mentally sick audience member who attempted to storm the stage of the particular performance of Extremities with Farrah Fawcett Majors I attended in 1983.
The man appeared to want to "save" Farrah Fawcett from her attacker in the play and had to be restrained and removed from the theatre by bodyguards - thankfully before he had made it up onto the stage.
This is one of the (many) things that can happen when one doesn't understand what art actually is as well as what art is actually for. I sometimes think or suspect that far too many of us are sort of like that man in the audience and that in the internet age the situation has gotten worse. As we wrap up a closing year and inaugurate a new one you can be assured that I will never offer anything traditional in the form of a wrap-up, still less any resolutions or revelations of any kind.
Art is a chief way we can be still and persevere in the most compromised of situations should we find ourselves in such situations, one feature happens to share with religious faith and traditions and even secular psychotherapy.
When I was a child I was drawn to music because of a purity I felt within its sounds, a purity that literally seemed to heal whatever else was wrong or deformed in daily life. I am most aware that this is a subjective and partial truth on my part.
Surely there are those who can feel this way about practically anything and above all if you are willing to come on our show and express whatever it is we are as willing as can be to express your truth.
Useful links related to this post to enjoy: https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Photo-Throwback-Farrah-Fawcett-Rehearses-For-EXTREMITIES-in-1983-20180706