Make it art!

Transcending pain and suffering through form-making…

First, there was dull anxiety. A peculiar, arrhythmic beating of the heart and feverish tingles running down my back.

Then, it became oppression – lungs that seemed to breathe in no air and a knotted stomach that would accept no food.

It morphed into angered hope and delusions – heart pounding and parching tongue, shivers and fevers, a confusion of overwhelming, unexplainable sensations and numbness, both somatic and mental.

The colours and the poetry have deserted me; I cannot hold my pencil to make form; my brush will not apply the paint; my eyes refuse to read. I am filthy.

Comes the time of silence. My pulse is low… I can no longer hear the heart that beat so strangely before. I can only feel the tears flowing endlessly down my cheeks. It seems the weeping won’t ever end.

But still, I must work. I must read. As I force my eyes to focus on the words through the salty mist they are clouded with, they begin to reach me. I am reading Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, a wonderful piece of work written by poet and scholar Susan Stewart.

The first chapter, on which I was concentrating on, deals with the human fear of darkness and the rise of poetry as a way to counter the formlessness of darkness through form-making, that is, through metaphor, which is a fuel of poetry writing. In the process of describing the birth of poetry since Ancient times, Susan Stewart tackles the subjects of laughter and weeping, of grieving, of loss… of pain.

So I start thinking about the relationship between pain and poetry, and about the transformative power of art, which can make even the filthiest object a thing of beauty and transcend the greatest suffering. Stewart quotes Adorno:

“The substance of a poem is not merely an expression of individual impulses and experiences. Those become a matter of art only when they come to participate in something universal by virtue of the specificity they acquire in being given aesthetic form”.

Adorno, “On Lyric Poetry and Society,” in Notes to Literature.

With poetry and form-making, then, individual experience becomes universal as much as it remains intimate. It crosses the thresholds of individual existence creating intersubjectivity: I write with my “I”, but as you read my “I” aloud, “I” becomes you. It stops belonging to me – it is universal. The discussion continues and explicates the links between the lyric and love and suffering. What is the role of poetry in all this suffering? What can poetry teach me, after all? And art?

Susan Stewart then teaches me what I feel I already knew deep inside – she does not quite teach me then, but she verbalizes intuitions I could not give linguistic form:

“The enunciation of pain at the origin of the lyric must appear before the emergence of a self-conscious sense of one’s own subjectivity. […] Pain has no memory; its expression depends on the intersubjective invention of association and metaphor. The situation of the person resides in the genesis of the memory of action and experience in intersubjective terms – that is, the articulation and mastery of the originating pain […]. Yet, the mastery of pain through measures and figures is not merely repressive, it is as well a matter of coming to knowledge and expression.”

Susan Stewart, Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, p. 46

It dawns on me… From what I cannot comprehend, I can learn and through mastery of experience, gain knowledge and understanding. I can thus ease the pain, and produce explanations similar to the process of myth-making.

There is pain and suffering. In my life, in others’. Sometimes as I think of all the injustice and strife there is in the world, tears well in my eyes. Sometimes, it is my own, intimate heartache that troubles me, selfishly. But I can transcend these feelings if I make them into art. I will not claim, like Ezra Pound proudly did, that I want “to make it new”. But I will perhaps too ambitiously, yet quite humbly, exclaim: “Make it art!” 

And doing so, you may help yourself, and if you do reach someone else’s soul, may help them too and infuse this personal experience with altruism as you share it with the world.

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