Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Poetic Consciousness of al-Hamd

In researching the Aesthetic philosophy of al-Hamd, I came across an essay by Sir Herbert Read, which has implications for the poetic consciousness raised by our seven sacred verses, gifted to us by the Divine Poet and uttered by us every day of our life:

"The poet speaks the essential word, says Heidegger. This implies that poetry is not the use of a ready-made language. It is that particular kind of speech, as Heidegger says (still interpreting Holderlin) which 'for the first time brings into the open all that which we then discuss and deal with in an everyday language. Hence poetry never takes language as a raw material ready to hand; rather it is poetry which first makes language possible. Poetry is the primitive language of a historical people'.

Such a theory of the primacy of poetic language had already, before Holderlin's time, been advanced by an obscure Italian philosopher whose revolutionary ideas have only in our time been given their full effect by the advocacy of Benedetto Croce - I mean, of course, Giambattista Vico. Vico, in his 'New Science', Scienza Nuova, boldly asserted, in opposition to the old science, that is, in opposition to the whole intellectual tradition of western philosophy, that 'in the histories of all nations, poetry appears as the first and primary mode of expression, as the vehicle of their first articulate life and expresses, not the peripheral, the pleasurable, or even the commodious dimensions of life, but the most intimate, stern and fundamental necessities of the life of the people, that is, their laws, their wisdom, their religious rites, their sacred formulas of birth, marriage and death, of initiation, of war and peace, and their rude speculations on the cosmos'. Poetry thus becomes, not a faculty developed by already cultured peoples for their delectation, or for the effective expression of ideas already rationally formulated (Horace's 'Aut prodesse aut delectare poetas'), but the primary act of apprehension and formulation, 'the expression of the pre-reflective or spontaneous consciousness of man'. Further, and here Vico anticipates Conrad Fiedler's theory of the plastic arts, there is no real distinction between this primary poetic expression and the first consciousness of some new aspect of reality: 'expression is the state of consciousness in its concrete actuality'.

When this poetic consciousness develops a form, a structure (but still not a reflective form), when it becomes what Holderlin called 'the most innocent of all occupations' and what Heidegger calls simply 'conversation', then we get, according to Vico, the myth. Poetry is no longer merely linguistic, but has become a myth-making activity, and once the myth is established, the consequential spiritual activities of man may develop: unification, integration, reflection, intellection. But, Vico asserts in one of his basic axioms, 'men at first feel without observing, then they observe with a troubled and agitated spirit. Finally they reflect with a clear mind'. And this axiom, he says, ' is the principle of the poetic sentences, which are formed with senses of passions and affections, in contrast with philosophic sentences, which are formed by reflection and reasoning'.

In the first stages of this development - the development from spontaneous expression to conversation, from the concrete actuality of a moment of consciousness (and of expression) to the formal articulation of a myth or an idea, between mere consciousness and passionate advertence, we have passed from what I will call the intensive aspects of poetry to the extensive aspects of poetry. We now distinguish these aspects thanks to our powers of reflection, and on the basis of the poetic material that has accumulated in historical times. In other words, the distinction we make is artificial, as is the whole academic science of poetry, poetics in the Aritotelian sense. It is our failure to preserve a sense of poetry as a primordial activity of consciousness, distinct from poetic thinking or myth-making, that has so often led to misunderstanding of the nature and function of poetry today, especially among psychologists.

The intensive aspects of poetry are due to the particular character of the words used in the spontaneous act of naming or advertence, and to the syntactical structure, or wholeness or unity which these words assume as they are uttered. The extensive aspects are due to the images, fantasies and reflections which these words convey, first to the poet in the act of advertence, then to the poet's audience, at the moment of understanding.

What we still debate, and the only excuse for reopening the subject now, is the degree to which these two aspects of poetry depend upon one another. To what extent is the degree of consciousness achieved in poetic utterance dependent on its verbal structure? Can the awareness conveyed by a poem be conveyed by any other verbal means - that is to say, by prose? Is the distinction between poetry and prose intensive only (that is to say,a question of verbal efficacy; or is it also extensive (that is to say, a distinct mode of discourse)? Poetry, it is easy to agree, is a spontaneous mode of expression: it is also at the moment of utterance a heightened state of consciousness. How shall we define such a state of specifically poetic consciousness; and what reality does such a state of consciousness reveal that is not accessible to mental acts of reflection?

~ excerpts from "The Forms of Things Unknown" by Sir Herbert Read, pp. 110-112

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