What the Poets Know And Ecological Science Might Learn

Poets, photographers, sculptors and painters know how to read. That might seem commonplace. What I mean is that the knowledge dancers have of the movement of their bodies in space is embodied in this group of artists in an acute visual field, and the skills and traditions to pattern it deeply. What is normally taken to be a mood of colour, for instance, is a depth of information that can be read — not by spectrometers and other exquisitely conceived tools but by the eye.
stag In Western culture, these observations are commonly taken to be aesthetic, that is to say the concern of art.husk Should they be described in language which seeks to recreate them as intellectual models rather than emotional ones, they are called spirit, and left to religion.P2080477

That split indicates a bias at the heart of many common perceptions of art and science. Remember, artists and poets can read the rose hips above as easily as they can read a painting by Gerhard Richter or a poem by Olena Kalytiak Davis. They can read the autumn knap weed below.

P2080508 The romantic split, which says the colours above have a mood, or the aspen leaves below are full of spirit, is a component of individual consciousness. It has a cost.P2080543 The poets and artists who have learned to read the world can read the romantic moods in the leaves below easily. More importantly, though, the framing of the leaf by the camera was an individualizing aesthetic act that moved the image of the leaf into human space, so it could be read humanly.P2080550The viewing of that aesthetic image, and of the choke cherries below …
P2080561… is a secondary abstraction. There’s no doubt that the moods of colour can be read at great depth by this method, or that new taxonomies could be created based upon these colour moods. That would also, however, be a statement about individuality — a trap that poets and artists might not want to enter.P2080563From their traditions, many scientists describe the current age as the age of the Anthropocene — one in which humans determine the fate of most species on the planet,  and are responsible for thousands of extinctions. It is, however, also the age of Gaia, the concept that the earth is alive…P2080564 … and looking at herself. In such a conception, sight is not an individualizing impulse, but something written into the very energy structure of the planet. It doesn’t lead to individual perception. It’s not romantic.P2080584 It’s not measurable by scientific procedure, but it is measurable by gesture.P2080639 These gestures are called art, or poetry, which the culture that set them aside from classification and logical enquiry terms emotional responses. They are, however, part of the substance of the world, as is the distorting lens of human attention attached to them.P2080689The human gaze it is called, by highly-inividualized people who would like there to be no gaze at all. What poets know is that that too is a gaze, and a very chill one.P2080703 The work is to see. If you see yourself there, don’t shut your eyes.P2080713Change your self to align with what you see.



5 replies »

    • Thanks! I try to get around the problem by making a huge distinction between textual language and oral language, and to push “reading” into the territory of tracking. But it’s a sloppy fix, I know, especially as it is pretty individual and might pass best for poets. However, it’s one task of poetry to give the nonverbal a verbal expression, without boxing it into textuality. Do you have any thoughts about a better word? Perhaps it’s time for me to dig deep into the word hoard and see if there’s one that has been used and forgotten.


      • i’ve had to think about this question because i’ve made films that try to lead people into non-linguistic states of being/knowing. have ended up seeing all forms of knowing as structured states of bodies, language function being a structural subset of knowing function, which is pretty global, and which i ended up calling ‘being about’. this has let me think about the relation of language and perception in ways i’ve liked better than the usual dualistic or rationalistic or language-dominated metaphors. it’s tricky, i know.
        chapter 6 is neurophilosophy of language.

        am liking your site. found it when i was looking for somewhere to live in oliver (but am in ashcroft now). tried to do something similar about places in southern california.


      • Thanks for the chance to read your thoughts on this. A clarification came to me a few minutes ago: by “reading” I have not been meaning the linear sort of linguistic activity that “reading” has become in the context of book culture. As I understood from your post, this is a “reading” of “reading” that is going to get me into a bit of a Schroedinger’s box. My gut feeling is that the notion of specialized forms of body-mind linkage, which are called art, are involved. The way a baseball pitcher “reads” the air and the batter and throws the ball just right without thinking of it, for example: art. I remain haunted (i.e. tethered by, “homed”) by the notions in an amazing book I picked up in Idaho this summer (Songs of Power and Prayer on the Columbia Plateau), and its explanations of plateau spiritual traditions, song, and healing. NOT a Western representation, but one in which the whole landscape is part of the cultural project. That’s a lot of muscle memory (so to speak)!


      • specialized forms of knowing, for sure, but in my experience sometimes on the hunt for less-specialized – banal contemporary forms being pretty specialized seen from childhood or maybe from some original or aboriginal forms of being.
        we get into trouble the moment we talk about mind-body ‘linkage’, i think. bodies are minds when they mind, aren’t they? artists are specialized forms of body, which have specialized capabilities of perceiving and making. a pitcher-body in the moment of pitching is comprehensively about the air as well as its own position and the batter’s and practice embodied as muscle memory and more, all integrated toward a specific act. similarly a painter-body in the act of painting.
        a poet-body in the act of setting language is similarly about many things, structurally integrated in the moment of making. in writing isn’t there often the experience of a sort of side-by-side back-and-forth checking between language and non-language? the carefulness of that checking seems to be what makes quality in writing. needing to be able to talk about that carefulness is part of what makes me nervous about ‘reading,’ partly because we’ve had such poor accounts of what reading is actually like.
        will look for songs of power and prayer, happy for recommendations to ask the terrible tnrd library system to find. you likely have a southern interior bibliography already assembled?


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