"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Nietzsche and Mallarmé: a quiz

Apologies for the dearth of posts recently but Life (and, I am afraid its opposite: family bereavement) has intervened but I came across the following from Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy while ambling through my personal commonplace book: "For the true poet the metaphor is not a rhetorical figure but a representative image that really hovers before him in place of a concept." I like this idea of the corporeality of poetic imagery in a world where we all live so much inside our heads and virtual universes but immediately below I see I have scribbled something from Mallarmé: "tout, au monde, existe pour aboutir à un livre". Question: do these support each other? Is writing a response to the world or is writing itself the world? Is a book more than a book? An independent entity that floats free of the empirical world? Or a report on experience? Mmmm, it must be a Wednesday lunchtime in the depths of winter.


Andrew K said...

The book exists within reality, and is necessarily added to the cumulative nature of this reality. Everything that is is this elusive reality, including necessarily the words within itself. For words to float free of the empirical world, or reality, would necessarily involve the words cutting loose from their own intelligent moorings, and descending into meaninglessness and ultimately madness. Where language is used properly it posseses an intrinsic relationship to reality, thus allowing oneself to speak meaningfully, whereas in the case of the madman this relationship breaks down and his words are simply self-referential, or that his words simply refer to the illusion created by those very words. His language creates the edifice of his madness.
Maybe that's how we can look upon beyond the personal to the collective madness of totalitarian systems, from 1984 to Brave New World(or the current preference for a miix of the two); the violation of the nature of language used to effect mad social systems.

I'm afraid my French is pretty crap, but if that Mallarme's quote is that all the world exists so as to be put into a book, I think we can safely take that as being a little flippant, or dilletanteish attitude to life.
As far as writing being the world, I suppose we can take a certain outlook as language being the world, as being the view of linguistic fundamentalists. Of course, when we talk of 'the world', everything that can be said is a matter of language, though only a lunatic would, for example,deny that our bodies' functions operate wholly independent of our linguistic understandings of 'the world'- thankfully enough, or we'd be in serious trouble. And that we have evolved to this point of animal existence through vast periods when human language didn't exist. The words 'the world' didn't exist, but that broadly referred to by 'the world' did exist.

If that's not all too tedious, life, and us within it, is intrinsically meaningful, and the meaningful use of language is a manifestation off this. If life didn't have truth at its core, then we couldn't say anything. But it does, and we can. And if it didn't possess this intrinsic truth, then "Mein Kampf" would be as true or valid as Huxley's Perennial Philosophy. Whereas, Mein Kampf is false specifically because of its language being an independent entity that floats free of the empirical world, in the broadest sense.

Andrew K said...

Though, as if that wasn't enough, our reality exists far beyond dwelling within a world of physical objects, and the 'true' poetic metaphor resonates with the obvious reality of the inner world of consciousness. Though perhaps not quite so obvious to some 'scientific' fundamentalists, who mistake science foe self-emasculation.