Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Poetry's use in a collapsing society

I think one can argue that the current civilization of Western-based American-hegemonic society is headed towards some sort of reset.

It may be catastrophic or it may not be.

But what does art--and of course for this blog, poetry--have to do with such widespread events?

I mean on the one hand we don't have a lot of great literature from the late 5th century A.D (or the 18th century for that matter--especially when one is discussing creative literature).

But we have a great deal of great literature from the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D.

Both were times of mass upheaval and disruption with regards to the way a civilization was put together.

At the birth of the Roman Empire, however, there wasn't a wholesale collapse of civilization, simply a "changing of the guard." At the very least this means there were better record keeping and distribution abilities--hence our having such literature extant. But it's not as if 470 A.D. were wholly without literature. The writings of the Christian Patriarchs from the period are fairly extensive--but it doesn't have the same creative verve.

There's some discussion of this (especially with regards to, say, the literature of the English Civil War) in McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary, a book I still need dearly to review--but which you should read immediately--but I don't think it quite grasps all of the sociological reasons for the creation of art (as it was outside the scope of the book anyway)

Can we as poets somehow shape events or are we merely recorders? Can we make the transition safer? Can we stop it altogether? Has art at all shaped the law-abiding nature that both provides for our fashion of civilization and plants the seeds for its destruction or was that done by breeding and capital punishment? For sure The Aeneid impacted Roman society, but does research exist regarding that impact?

What does what we write have to do with the world? What should it have to do with the world?

I think we ought to answer (or at least try to answer) these questions if we want poetry to again see the light of relevance.

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