3. ENVIRONMENT &/or EGO
The question might be put thus: "Where does poetry come from?" The standardized response, of course, is "From the poet," a perpetuated misunderstanding of the role of the ego in Romantic thought. (See Wordsworth's "half-perceive, half-create" as a step towards an antidote; the poet does only half the work.) But as cautious as we may be about accepting standardized responses, we cannot accept the opposite possibility, that poetry comes wholly from without. Poetry is not simply the representation of the external.
Ego/Representation/External: enter Jackson Mac Low. The question is about representation, but not in the usual sense (re. reference). Mac Low offers a poetry of re-presentation of language itself; language must speak itself through him. Poetry: an exploration of and confrontation with one's environmentgetting to know one's element. Just how important environmental awareness is to Mac Low is evident in the following advice to performers:
|Sensitivity, tact, and courtesy must be exercized
in order to make every detail of one's performance contribute toward a total
sound sequence that is as similar as possible to what the performer would
choose to hear.While egoistic overpowering of the total sound should never
occur, the exercise of virtuosity is strongly encouraged when it is carried
out with as much consciousness as possible to the total situation. Performers
should always try to be both inventive and sensitive. As in all my other
simultaneities, the most important "rules" are: "Listen" and
The notion of language speaking through Mac Low may seem at odds with his own attempts to efface the subject from the composition process; but as Mac Low admits, no process, however aleatory, obliterates the choosing, shaping ego of the poet.
He points out in "Museletter":
|Yes the Zen Buddhist motive for use of chance
means was to be able to generate series of "dharmas"
(phenomena/events, e.g., sounds, words, colored shapes)
relatively "uncontaminated" by the composer's "ego"
(taste, constitutional predilections, opinions, current or
chronic emotions). It was such a relief to stop making
artworks carry that burden of "expression"!
. . . But . . . I [do] allow my own emotions to influence my
systematically generated work . . . : my choices of means,
materials, &c., can't help being influenced by emotions, &
I'd be foolish if I thought they weren't
(The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book 26-7).
The point is that when we take a step back and allow for a greater impingement of the externalwhen we no longer foreground expression or description as the raison d'etre of poetrythen we are able to see the language around us from different angles. Found language is no longer harnessed solely to the exigencies of "the message." Which doesn't mean that meaning is no longer important. Quite the contrary: what Mac Low foregrounds is the very machinery of meaning-production, the role of context in the coloring (delimiting) of words. D.T.Suzuki: "The great fault with us all is that we force logic on facts whereas it is facts themselves that create logic" ("The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind" 224).
Environment is never neutral (no pure dharma). It is always at the service of (or perhaps more exactly, a function of) a particular context. The beautyand ultimately the political powerof Mac Low's project is the recognition of the possibility of alternative contexts. The present hegemonic form of organization is only one possible context among others. There is always the possibility of the redistribution of the materials at hand.
Alternatives: Democracy, Anarchy, Peace
|The state of no-mind-ness refers to the time prior
to the separation of mind and world, when there is yet no mind standing against
an external world and receiving its impressions through various sense-channels.
Not only a mind, but a world, has not yet come into existence. This
we can say is a state of pure emptiness, but as long as we stay here
there is no development, no experience, it is mere doing-nothing,
it is death itself, so to speak. But we are not so constituted.
There rises a thought in the midst of the Emptiness; this is the awakening
of Prajna, the separation of unconsciousness and consciousness, or, logically
stated, the rise of the fundamental dialectical antithesis. . . . The
Unconscious and the world of consciousness are in direct oppositionn, yet
they lie back to back and condition each other. The one negates the
other, but this negation is really affirmation.
On the one hand, the dictrine of No-mind could lead to passivity"When sitting, just sit." While we perhaps secretly take pride in our striving for no-mind, the walls come a-tumbling down. A perfect emptiness: no development, no experience, death itself. But on the other hand "the original Mind is neither dependent upon nor independent of" the external world. The striving for no-mind can also be seen as a stance of nonaggression towards, equivalence with, respect for the external.
|Prajna, which is the awakening of consciousness in
the Unconscious, functions in a twofold direction. The one is towards the
Unconscious and the other toward the conscious. The Prajna which is oriented
to the Unconscious is Prajna properly so called, while the Prajna of
consciousness is now called mind with small initial letter. From this mind
a dualistic world takes its rise: subject and object, the inner self andthe
external world, and so on. In the Mind, therefore, two aspects are also
indistinguishable: Prajna-mind of non-discrimination and dualistic mind.
The mind of the first aspect belongs to this world, but so long as it is
linked with Prajna it is in direct communication with the Unconscious, it
is the Mind; whereas the mind of the second aspect is wholly of this
world and delighted with it, and mixes itself with all its
A dualistic world: the grounds for descrimination and exclusion. The subject/object couplet leads rather rapidly to others, such as us/them, friend/enemy, superior/inferior, natural/unnatural. The goal, then, is Prajna-mind of non-descrimination.