Thursday, October 18, 2012

10/18/12. Notes on Jane Harrison

Jane Ellen Harrison’s innovation in Classical scholarship was to propose that the Greek myths originated in religious ritual and magical practice. In her works archaological materials become privileged over literary evidence, such as Hesiod or Homer: her interpretations rely upon the vase paintings and bas-reliefs which decorate her pages.

The table of contents of Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903) reveals a procession from chthonic, harvest and purification rituals, to a consideration of the figures of Dionysus and Orpheus, and thus to the development of Orphic mystery religion.  The thesis implied here turns upside down the nineteenth century axiom that the Classical period gave birth to an unprecedented rational spirit in culture, foundation and justification of eventual European supremacy, of which the limpid purity of Greek myth was testimony. And that thesis came to seem moved by new intellectual currents exemplified by Durkheim and Freud, theorists of the irrational whom she later championed.

Jane Harrison was a pioneer in her profession, “the first British female classical scholar to achieve an international reputation.” That she was a woman contributed to the orientation of her vision, I imagine Duncan believed; at the very least, that it placed a kind of “signature” on it, and so assures her a proper place in the pantheon of the H.D. Book. Duncan’s conviction that poetry retains traces of its origin in magic incantations seems to have its source in her theory, or find confirmation there.

Waking in the middle of the night, in my mind's eye I find Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), Picasso’s epochal instinctual battleground of an unfinished canvas, in which “primitive” and feminine are juxtaposed—african masks, which suggest ritual use, coming to replace more naturalistic faces on the dancing bodies of a cathartic nightmare…

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Image in Imagism was originally, for Pound, HD and DH Lawrence, not a literary device or movement in artistic fashion but “a luminous event in language.” Its roots lay in Gnostic and Neoplatonic thinking, reaching for a Reality that is “cosmic and spiritual.” “The very movement of the line might be a magic then, theurgic in its intent…” (49)--not expressive, but efficacious. The extreme economy, formulated in Pound’s “A Few Don’ts” as “to use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation,” was to so tense the writing that “reverberations of these presences might be heard.” As the image emerges the art work takes on life, becomes both work and person. It directs and uses the artist, who thus becomes “creature of the form he thought at first to achieve.”

Just as there are certain events in actual life that are so charged with the information of a content that is to be realized in the maturation of the soul or form of the total lifetime, and as there are certain dreams that flood our active consciousness with the forms of unconscious, as yet unborn, facts of our identity, so, for the poet, there are poems that are prophetic of a poetry that is to be realized only in the fullness of the poet’s life…” (52)


I cannot separate the poem from its operation as prophecy or prayer in the shaping of my own life, the efficacy of the poem to awaken depths in me. The key lies in a rhetoric which is magic in its intent and not literary. (54)

We know that in 1946, at the writing group that met at 2029 Hearst in Berkeley, Duncan went into public trance, “setting up a table where I proposed in ten consecutive nights to receive ten consecutive visions that were also messages in Poetry.” (Janot bio p. 104) Tarot cards, crystal balls and other forms of divination were also in evidence at those meetings. (ibid.)  These sessions of overt magical practice produced not only material for Duncan’s book Medieval Scenes, but also laid the foundation for the predominantly “serial” form of all Blaser and Spicer’s mature poetry, and marked the beginning of the Berkeley Renaissance in general. Spicer’s seminal 1956 workshop at the San Francisco Public Library was entitled “Poetry as Magic.” And in the proposition of a engagement with a living being or spirit brought into being by participating in the creation of a work of art we can hear intimations of the “Martians” of Spicer’s 1965 Vancouver Lectures.