Spinning & flashing

While traveling, I finished Octavio Paz’s The Bow and the Lyre and also Dave Hickey’s The Invisible Dragon, two very different books that I’m still churning around in my mind as they intersect on the subject of beauty in the arts.

Hickey’s work has been much more controversial than has Paz’s; but then, he addresses a completely different audience in his book (most specifically art world critics, a contentious bunch to begin with). Both writers spend some time on the idea of rebellion in art, and there’s much to consider on just that topic alone. But I feel as though I need to re-read both books and jot down my thinking because–well, they cover so much that relates to my interests. I cannot keep all of this information, and all of these concepts and revelations, in my mind at once.

My brain’s spinning.

Which is a good thing. To spin is to draw and twist into a thread, to gyrate, whirl, “to evolve, express, or fabricate by processes of mind or imagination” [Merriam-Webster], to twirl, roll and yaw, speed along, etc. When the brain does these things, neurons are firing happily. The brain also needs meditative rest, true, but the whirling of intriguing thoughts is a better activity than the grating stir of anxieties or the dull repetition of too-familiar routines.

About Paz. All of the essays in The Bow and the Lyre are good, but some are better than others–and some just appeal to my interests more than others. The glib aphorisms I complained of earlier turn out to be forerunners of quite thorough explorations into the “what” of poetry and of being. I came away amazed at the breadth of the author’s knowledge, the depth of his close reading, his philosophical forays and his artistic analysis and his creative intuition. We should be glad our Nobel laureates are of this caliber.

Furthermore, coincidentally of course, Paz (writing in the late 1950s and early 1960s) cites Heidegger, who was alive at the time; proto-phenomenologist Husserl; and Deleuze–a philosopher who’s on my to-read list. Also many others, some of whom are Mexican or Spanish poets or dramatists with whom I have little or just passing familiarity, and most of whom are poets and philosophers I’ve read (whew, so I didn’t get too lost in his examples).

My favorite chapter is the one on Image in the poem, but I admire his thinking in so many of these essays. Paz discusses the much-acknowledged need for tension in the poem, a topic I thought I’d already read enough about, but his approach strikes me as particularly clear and apt. Robert Bly has written about the “leap” in a poem (see his small gem Leaping Poetry) and the suggestion of the twist or surprise in a poem is not new. Paz considers the poem as a kind of rebellion because the poem is always outside of the expected cultural norm, because the poem is slippery and cannot easily be pinned down–else it fails. There is also a startling-ness to the good poem–his translator employs the word “fulgurant,” an obscure but specific word meaning amazing in an impressive way–suggestive of a flash of lightning.

The tension need not be so flashy. It can be subtle, but the poem has to have earned its ‘turn.’ How does that happen? Paz says that tension is created in tandem with the reader: the reader is an integral part of the poem. What occurs in the poem (in terms of form, imagery, metaphor, meaning, rhythm, wordplay, etc.) will be unexpected even though the reader anticipates it. In fact, the reader desires the surprise, wants the unpredictable, and the poem will be weaker for the lack of it. It’s like watching a fireworks display. You anticipate the noise, “chrysanthemums” and “fountains,” but you’re never quite sure when exactly the rocket will spew forth its light or what form the explosion will take.

The reader expects change and transformation from the poem, expects puns, twists, leaps, juxtapositions, and all the rest. The reader feels that thrill from a poem when the expectation is justified but the delivery of the surprise nevertheless startles. Paz would say that is a revelation.

And this is only one tiny aspect of this deep and intriguing book. No wonder my head spins, and I feel transformed!

6 comments on “Spinning & flashing

  1. Sigrun says:

    Thank you, Ann!
    I have added Paz & Hickey to my list!

    Hope you will write more about Hickey too –

    You say that Deleuze is on your reading-list. I would highly recommend to start with the essay “Literature and Life” in his: Essays Critical and Clinical
    I’ve never managed to read Deleuze in a systematic way, but I find his work – and especially this book – tremendously inspiring.


    • I read Hickey’s Air Guitar some years ago and liked it very much, so thought provoking (and purposely provoking in other ways, too). He is so quintessentially American in his independent contrarianism, but also deep and thoughtful and–often–quite correct. He loves to tweak Authority. At the same time, he’s genuinely interested in beauty, in creativity, in what makes us pause and reflect and seek for meaning.

      The Invisible Dragon started as essays and lectures in response to the Mapplethorpe exhibition funded by the NEA back in the late 80s. You might want to learn a bit about that political and cultural dust-up before reading this book if you aren’t aware of it–I know you are not a USA citizen. Here’s a site: http://www.publiceye.org/theocrat/Mapplethorpe_Chrono.html

      Thanks for direction on Deleuze! It is great to have some idea of where to start!


  2. KM Huber says:

    Paz is now on my list, Ann, for just your brief discussion of image and twist makes the Paz essays irresistible. Readers do look for the twist and try to anticipate, and what delight it is when the poet takes us beyond our own imagination for we have found a new perspective and perhaps a new world. This is such a lovely and thoughtful post, Ann. Thank you!


    • Thanks, Karen. I plan to write more on the image as Paz talks about it, but I am just too busy now (the semester is about to start). The idea of twist/tension I just blogged about today! –perhaps more later– also, I am now thinking about whether contemplative beauty (such as you often post about) exists with or without the tension that spurs art. Nature isn’t ‘art.’ So maybe there’s a difference in how we take that sort of beauty in? I wonder.


  3. […] In my few available moments during which I can write about being intellectually engaged and curious, I’ve been working on this post. It’s been a “draft” on my dashboard for some time as I work on it. For background, recall that I was reading Octavio Paz’s prose and Dave Hickey’s essays in The Invisible Dragon. […]


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