Thursday, October 23, 2008
Poetry as Religion, Masturbation, and Science
The Oakland Fuel Dock is more important than any poem ever written, and it demands more respect. The container cranes stand with more majesty and pride over the gulls cracking mussels on the cement sides of slips because poetry, like all art, has no dignity.
It's easy to think of poetry as a religion. We experience poetry alone with a book or with a reverend-like reader in a group. and the more sinister boors of us will always try to make poetry a religion. Boors see a place where they can impose their own beliefs on others who love the art, and they will strive to turn those beliefs into dogma. Every religion has the arrogance to think that their set of rules are the right ones for anyone who loves God; of such stuff are proselytizers made. People who call poetry a religion are arrogant in the same way. When you refuse their dogma, they shake their heads and call you uninformed, like Martin Luther did when he said the Jews of Germany only refused Christ because Catholics had gotten all the rules wrong.
Rules assume that getting to heaven is a contest. They have holy men and saints, whose names act as place markers for ideas that reinforce those rules. These names have the mystical power of convincing people to believe what they know to be untrue.
The zealots of poetry as religion find saints in old critics. They chant their names in a mantra designed to feign an understanding of the ideas behind them. But reading criticism is analogous to watching the muscles of a very intelligent orangutan as he masturbates. Interesting? Yes. Fun? Maybe. But certainly not important or dignified. Poetry zealots watch to find new techniques so that they too can join the circle jerk of criticism, but they will never admit to having fun with it, and they expect you to stay quiet and reverent. Soon they will learn how to tell other would-be masturbators how it "should" done.
The only way to make criticism important is to change its purpose to that of science. Science's only goal is merely to know. Critics have spent so much time telling us things, eared seals barking orders at pelicans, that the pelicans have swallowed too much sea water and have started to believe that poetry and all other art is a religion. Only in religion do people subject themselves to being told so much. But poetry is not a burning bush and will not tell you anything. Moses was a liar, and so are most critics. They cannot ever tell you what poetry is really saying because it isn't saying anything. When art tries to say something, it fails because it has nothing to offer as a reward for your listening to Metatron. In religion, there's, you know, eternal salvation.
If you think that poetry and all other art is more than a form of entertainment, you suffer from arrogance. Art does not mean more than football. It seems like the more people know, the more they enjoy "fine arts," but who knows why that is? And that why is what's important. Why do we value the arts? Why do we enjoy ink on paper and paint on canvas or the sound wet breath makes through pounded brass? If you allow the educated and educators to stop you from laughing and having fun with the arts, you have been duped in the cathedral into thinking masturbation is evil and unhealthy.
But Art, Entertainment, Criticism, they all are very fun and healthy. The only question is how and why we enjoy the sticky mess they get us in.
Scientists are almost always more fun to be around than priests.