Poetic Thought for the Day (8/26/2014): Poetry as Labyrinth & Glass Bead Game

As I began thinking of today’s topic I was reminded of Herman Hesse’s classic satire of Majister Ludi or The Glass-Bead Game which became back in the sixties an instant classic about the power of imagination divorced from mundane society and religious worlds as well. A sort of secular utopia for people devoted solely to aesthetics, history, science, art, and poetry as a pure form of contemplative practice. Much like zen but in a secular mode in which there would be yearly competitions among various participants who would play with knowledge as if it were a vast cosmos to be played like a grand symphony of symbols and meaning unconnected to the real world of commerce and everyday life. Instead of a utopia, this is in some ways the perfect dystopia of the Platonic realm of Ideas and the German Transcendental world of Idealism. For unless we connect our words back to life of what use are they. This was the point of the end of Hesse’s novel as well, which I will not relate just in case someone has not read it. Do that! Read it. Well worth the time and effort.

My second image was of Jorge Luis Borges’s image of the labyrinth, a vast cosmic library of knowledge and wisdom that houses everything that has happened, could happen, or will happen in the universe in a great labyrinth in which there is no entry point, nor exit but only an endless series of infinite digressions and assays into a world that repeats itself right down to the letter on each and every page. Except that the pages and letters on them change every moment of every second of every day forever.

Christopher Lyndon in an interview with Harold Bloom would remind Bloom of his original title of An Anatomy of Influence, which is his latest offering or study of poetry through history. Lyndon would say that Bloom himself is the living labyrinth, “because it so elegantly represented not literature so much as the surging search-engine of Bloom’s overstocked head. Influence anxiety, as he likes to say, exists not between the artists but between their poems endlessly bumping into each other in readers’ memories, none vaster than his own. “Let’s face it, Harold,” I had said to him most of two years ago, “the living labyrinth is you!” He answered with a long laugh, and then: “A nice trope, my boy.” (see here)

The notion that each reader becomes a attached, hooked into, or plugged into a vast living labyrinth of poetry and poems that are continuously jostling, touching each other, battling in now this person’s mind, then another, each poem like a little catalyst sparking ever more poems in this ongoing game brings both Hesse’s and Borges’ worlds together. One could say that each of us is connected to that vast labyrinth of information, the world of words is for us the universe of meaning that connects us to both ourselves and to the actual forces in the real world around us. At every moment that we invent or create new meaning we transform the possibilities of our world for good or ill. We have magical powers to create or destroy with our words. We may think words have lost their power and become degraded by our modern capitalist societies and democracies, but in truth these open societies have actually broken down the monopolies and allowed the free reign of information to all. The battle of knowledge to shape and invent possibilities of knowledge and participation are endless in this new world. Yet, it’s not to be taken lightly, for one could discover that language is sick and desolating again, falling into isolated enclaves of power, bound by false engines of control and manipulation just as easily.

Ultimately the challenge is to make sense of this vast labyrinth of information, and that is the responsibility of poetry to build, to make an order that is at once instructive and delightful in which to house human meaning. Otherwise we can be like the modernists and postmodernists and accept that nothing is nothing, and meaning no longer has a place in time. But to except that is to accept that we, too, are mere nothings. This to me is Beckett’s End Game. Nihilism.

But for me this is over, the age of nihilism has taken us as far as it can into that subjective sphere of nullity of world and self; now we begin anew, we once again take up the task of reinventing our humanity and our meanings, but accepting that we are not the center of creation, but only one of the inheritors of a vast labyrinth in which we all play a Glass-Bead Game with time and our future. But this time it’s not some contemplative escape into pure or ideal worlds of play, but a very real engenderment of our participation and creation of a future worth living in. Poetry being the House of Being and human meaning is also the labyrinth in which we all wander and work with each other in continuous struggle or a process that is ever changing and growing and becoming future and us in us and earth.

   That’s my thought for the day!


3 thoughts on “Poetic Thought for the Day (8/26/2014): Poetry as Labyrinth & Glass Bead Game

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