The sacred is hidden in the new: The Need for the Conjunction of Poetry and Philosophy Today
Author of the Week: Greece
Poetry and Philosophy
Friedrich Schelling writes in Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature, in a rather poetic tone: ‘The world of ideas presses strongly towards the light, but is still held back by the fact that nature has mysteriously withdrawn. The harbours of ideas cannot have great secrets as their aims, except the admission of the mystery of Nature.’ Balancing between the materiality of existence and the somewhat more fascinating world of ideas, I will attempt to levitate between the idea of genesis and the birth of ideas per se, but more specifically I will take a look at the possibility of the genesis of an innovative language, a language that could render poetry useful again. Such a language in its most archetypal form, nuggets of which have been revealed to us from Heraclitus to Hölderlin and Rimbaud (with Heidegger as our guide in identifying them), has yet to appear. Please forgive my perhaps normative rather than descriptive style – poetry once again trumps the science in me.
I will attempt, by inverting the scheme of ideas and genesis, to highlight the importance of genesis as a concept that can function again in the present and the future as an active project beyond its genealogy, important as it is. After all, as Antonio Gramsci writes, the crisis takes place when the old has not yet died and the new has not yet been born. I guess what I will try to argue is that in the field of poetry, philosophical reflection can learn to unhook itself from itself by birthing a language that can re-signify necessary collective agendas for the post-crisis period.
One would say that what the world lacks today is the sacred. Not necessarily in its religious manifestation and certainly not through representatives, such as any kind of church or institution. There is a general lack of faith in something that is beyond us but that nevertheless constitutes us. However, what is mainly missing is the ascertainment of its possibility. The ascertainment that we can approach an essence behind the pragmatic veils and rational assumptions of science, that we can cut a path towards the discovery of both our subjective authentic truth and the objective, or even intersubjective one to which we wholly belong. This thought seems to have its roots in the metaphysical dimension, but in fact its socio-political dimension is more salient. If we perceived the field of reflection as a meeting point of many different arts and as a collective function, that could set us on the path towards achieving the realization of it.
Poetry is born at the moment when, in order to express something you want to say, you cannot but invent a new language. Language is the means, not the end in itself. Thus, far from nostalgia and anachronism, far from militant narratives, the only concern of poetry is potentiality, i.e. the restoration of beauty as truth and, perhaps most importantly, truth as beauty. An openness primarily of language, where the order of language and the particular playfulness that it introduces to our knowledge can be expressed by a dialectic between articulation and silence.
Contemporary international mainstream thought seems unable to take this direction. There is a need to be driven to new paths even if they are unknown, chaotic or unstable, not necessarily chasing an avant-garde of extravagance or sensationalism but an avant-garde of novel ideas, emotions and intuitions. With postmodern media experimentation the sense of purpose has been lost, we are interested in the how but not so much in the why. There is a wide range of experimentation but depth is absent from it.
People are often drawn to realistic reality because they are unwilling to take the route towards the mystical. One seems to overlook that it is ultimately the latter that one seeks in order to fill what is empty and develop what is not. I am not referring only to a form of catharsis but to an experience that would function as something more than a mere release of emotions and simple formation of specific collective phantasies. I am referring to an experience that could give rise to a collective consciousness and collective agendas. As bold as it sounds, even if we approached an absolute dimension of rationality, this would still not provide answers or enable the world to create a common consciousness. That calls for a higher human power – Imagination. Let us reflect here on the creatively constructive conflict between Enlightenment and Romanticism. Modern thinking seems to skirt around the limits of reason and/or return to empiricism, but not to explore the realm of imagination. Only through imagination could one formulate and express true innovations that would draw the public out of the confines of modern day-to-day life and direct it towards creating possibilities for the birth of a new reality.
We need a breakthrough. Poetry needs to focus and reclaim its importance as a collective process. Beyond the formulation and mapping of the socio-economic crisis, beyond its expression and release, modern poetry must be a proposal, it must become useful. We must avoid the easy solution of irony and cynicism that are remnants of postmodernism – whose dead ends we have seen – and pour ourselves into the creation of a new proposition.
We need a language that clearly expresses what continues to be in the shadows. A language that puts before us what we know to exist but is still out of reach. A language north of the future, in Paul Celan’s words. We need a conjunction of poetry and philosophical thought in the spotlight if we are to effect a transformation of reality.
Behind the word and within the poem, the open field is awaiting either to be conquered or to conquer us. The goal of a pairing of poetry and thought would be for both to happen simultaneously. A mediation between individual and collective poetic nature. A possibility of sensuous and imaginative logic, but far from rational imagination. An attempt at amphisemy but without the loss of position due to polysemy. An attempt to return to the grand narratives with laconic words. In absolute substantive density. In the supreme marriage of poetic thought and contemplative poetry. The genesis of an anti-biographical poetry that nevertheless expresses the biography of all of us, through the transformation of the ordinary into the unprecedented. A historical outburst that guides the ecstatic spirit into an extralogical dimension, a play in the meadow of symbols, restoring its mythical and hedonistic purity. Bringing back the dynamic contradictions to the last twist. Until the surprise occurs.
It is possible that we may not accomplish any of the above; my own words, confused and insecure, certainly do not. But the words that may follow at some point, could only insist on searching for the crystal that is born in the light that one transmits; the intact principle revealed in the quest for the yet unspoken, the yet unspeakable, the yet thoughtless; the quest for the secret conversation, the white fire, as well as for the imagination and the madness that it entails; for the new crack created through the sadness of a wonder leading to a new play of beauty; a step beyond what already exists, into what could exist.
Poetic thought and contemplative poetry. Refusal without waiver. Questioning without nullification. Beyond unnecessary manichean dilemmas such as logic or emotion, instinct or intuition, poetry must use all the tools and rise to the realm of imagination until it becomes what it was made to be: a play of beauty.
What still remains is to establish the role of functional ambiguity and what kind of greed is necessary for poetry. How poetry is born when the signifier and the signified are identified at the same time but in different places and this does not mean that the signified must be exactly the same as the signifier, but that both must exist and be expressed simultaneously within the word? Change can only be achieved through an opening. We can only look for the passage to this opening-enigma. Beyond postmodern criticism and irony, it is time for poetry to propose. Beyond the formulation and mapping of the socio-economic crisis, beyond its expression and release, contemporary poetry must create a new imaginary, stop following life and to persuade life to follow its lead.
We seem to have lost the ability to name things. The only solution is to rely on a creative energy that will lead us to the unfulfilled, the impossible. In danger we will approach the unspeakable and the unspoken. In danger we will discover salvation, a marriage of uniqueness and totality, the new language. We need mystics again, individualities transmuting into collectivities. A step away from safety and deep into the foreign.
Language must be freed from its descriptive capacity and focus on its authentic creativity. The purpose of a common language is to separate in order to explain, while the purpose of poetry is to unify. Poetry should not aim to identify with language but to transcend it.
There are still veils between perception and reality. Once the barriers between art and life break down, the harmony of the individual and the whole will be revealed.
Hence, perhaps, we should first set the agenda through a common socio-political consciousness and then impose the appropriate conditions, for instance, on the economy, so that it functions as a tool for realising our own visions, and not the vision of those who control it at the moment. In this, the conjunction of poetry and thought with the aim of creating an innovative language can not only help but also be the main source of starting points. Imaginative rather than rational consciousness can interpret the obscure idea that floats between nothing and something.
Where is fantasy romance necessary and useful, and when should we proceed to realize its respective socio-political agendas? Does the postmodern world ultimately reproduce ideas and practices of the past, mixing them in such a superficial way that they no longer have transformative meaning? As for today, where could the alternative paths of heterodoxy come from? How will we be creatively heretical in the long run? How will we avoid limiting ourselves to a few isolated events, and instead build an authentic social reality that characterizes our generation?
We need a continuous and deep process of socialization of thought, poetry, art in general, politics and economics. We need to rethink the nature and role of collective subjects who can significantly influence social reality and whose absence is felt so keenly. The construction of alternatives is permanently required, even on a small scale, in the context of everyday life. Whether the necessary individual or collective subjects are absent or hypnotized, we must refocus the attention on them. Not only where we aim to go and how, but mainly by whom and with whom.
In history there have been important moments when starting conditions for the conjunction of philosophical reflection, artistic creation and poetic writing were revealed. Today we are experiencing a peak of social mind-blindness and individual narcissism. Art is created to be consumed and re-communicated superficially. Few draw on its power to contemplate reality differently. Art in the era of post-modern mind-blindness no longer functions as an instrument for opening up new imaginative fields, but as an escape from reality into a narcissistic inner world. Even radicalism is now a consumer spectacle of the highest order.
Looking back at transcendental idealism, which can once again function as a complement to historical materialism, art, and more specifically poetry, must fulfill its function as the generator of philosophical mysticism and the vehicle of transformation of existential, social and political reality, and vice versa. At the risk of being labelled as a meta-materialist, I insist that the answers to social transformation can be found through a radical renewal of philosophical reflection and artistic creation.
Somewhat misinterpreting Axelos and Castoriadis, in an attempt to discover their points of intersection, I wonder: can the Herculean game be realized through a renewed poetic reflection in terms of political practice? When the game of political reality, in terms of struggle, manages to become a complete socio-political game, then we can perceive and subsequently attempt to realize an inverted social reality. For this, we need fields of experimental processes which we not only lack, but unfortunately we do not even realize their necessity. In general, the avant-garde fields of expression must be recreated and redefined, from which a range of necessary ideas and practices can in turn be derived. We have dealt enough with the interpretation of structures, institutions and passions, the task now is to discover and create new ones.
The new generation must be approached as a social category in its own right, stepping on more complete dividing lines. Continuous fermentations on multiple levels. Rethinking the ontology of institutions and values. Re-examining the relationship of knowledge and art with the society that produces them. New words for new concepts, because so far we only see new words for obsolete concepts. Thought and action must be united in a constant feedback loop, so that they are transformed from singularities into totalities, just as rationality is transformed through imagination.
Instead of the murky superficialities of postmodernism we need artistic creation with a social role, radicalism as attempted by the greats of romanticism and modernism. Social transformation cannot be understood without decisive philosophical and artistic movements, just as it cannot be understood without the masses. Therefore, we are still waiting for the movement that will give rise to a renewal of ideas and aesthetics while expressing and meeting the needs of the masses – transcendental contemplation, aesthetic creation and material needs as one.
The effort to transform society without falling into the destructive traps of the past is the common element that should constitute the new approaches. Thought and poetry must deconstruct the stereotype that wants them to be disconnected from concrete social demands. The organic public intellectual and the critical artist need to stage a return.
Poetry must become useful again, it must express needs and meet them. But without a rebirth of the world of ideas, there can be no renewal of the world of needs and vice versa – interaction between the two is needed if we are to overcome the impasses of everyday life.
We focus on the special, which is obviously decisive when society is in such depths of economic crisis, but no substantial overcoming of the crisis can occur unless our perception of ourselves and the whole of which we are a part is transformed on an imaginative level. The same goes for individual and collective creativity in the private and social sphere.
The conditions always exist quietly, and a single defining event is enough to make the leap into an innovative language that will express this world but, above all, show us how to inhabit it poetically. The simultaneously good and bad news is that this cannot be foreseen teleologically, therefore hope is always present. For now we are still in the limbo of waiting, fighting for at least some presence. And as we refer to a concept of genesis, one could say with a Nietzschean twist that perhaps death gave birth to time so that it can grow what it later wishes to kill. But how do you defeat death while prolonging the birth stage? Cliché or not, the only answer remains love, love for each unique Other, but also for everything.
Nikos Erinakis [b. 1988, Athens, Greece] holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy [Universities of London and Oxford], having studied Economics [AUEB], Philosophy and Comparative Literature [Warwick] and Philosophy of the Social Sciences [LSE]. He has taught Political Philosophy, Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art at the University of London and he now teaches at the Athens School of Fine Arts, the University of Athens and the Hellenic Open University. He is the Director of Research of the think-tank Institute for Alternative Policies – ENA and the Director for Literature and Art of the Corfu International Festival. He is also a board member of the Greek Youth Symphony Orchestra and has been a board member of the Athens and Epidaurus Festival. He has published three poetry books [Soon Everything Will Be Burning and Will Lit Up Your Eyes, Printa/Roes, 2009; In Between Where the Shadow Falls, (1st ed. Gavrielides, 2013; 2nd ed. Keimena 2021, also translated and published in France by Desmos, 2018); and Still being baptized, Keimena, 2022] and two translations of distinguished modern European poets [Georg Trakl: Dark Love of a Wild Generation (1st ed. Gavrielides, 2011, 2nd ed. Keimena 2021); and Paul Celan: North of Future, 1st ed. Gavrielides, 2017, 2nd ed. Keimena 2021]. His first philosophy book Authenticity and Autonomy: From Creativity to Freedom has been recently published by Keimena Press. His poems, papers and articles have been published in several peer-reviewed journals, edited collections, anthologies and the popular press.
Photo by Paris Tavitian