Lately I’ve been a little fixated on the idea of “The Sublime”, terror equally intertwined with beauty. This idea seems to keep popping up in various classes and conversations, in art history class we examine its presence in paintings of shipwrecks and ominous churches, and while doing work in English class I happened upon it in a book of literary terms. I bet this can be explained by the frequency illusion, a cognitive bias where something recently learned about starts appearing in one’s day to day life more and more, generally as a result of being more on the lookout for it, but for the purpose of adding some excitement to my life I’m imagining that it could be something more.
Either way, I’ve been thinking about “The Sublime” in my life, mainly the lack of it. I certainly have moments of joy, but seldom do I find myself unsettled by their magnitude. I’ve begun to worry that I’m not experiencing real high power happiness, or that my brain isn’t as fancy an organic machine as I had hoped.
I’ve stood on some pretty high rooftops, I’ve looked out at the ocean, I enjoy doing these sorts of things, but don’t find myself absolutely overwhelmed by them. Maybe I have too many explanations for things that were once inexplicable? Words to attach to what used to be deemed the ineffable. Or perhaps being able to watch those youtube videos that compare the scale of the smallest building block of existence to the greatest star has desensitized me to the miniature mammoths of our world?
Another theory I’ve thought up, is that today’s modern human is too eager to seek out pleasure to be absolutely overcome with it. I’m not arguing that hedonism is something of the new age, but I do think it’s possible that we’ve begun to represent ourselves too much as lightning rods for any passing through thrills and have become quickly jaded, or even shunned, by them. You hear about poets of the past, like William Blake, having heavenly visions that were beyond his volition. Now that writers are waiting around for similar divine inspiration it doesn’t feel as inclined to visit us.
I’m sure I have felt the sublime, I’m sure I will feel it again. Maybe today just isn’t a particularly sublime day and I’ve convinced myself that the rest of my life is fated to lack it as well? In the meantime I’ll try and keep enjoying the small and tame pleasures of life. Not everything has to be some kind of rodeo with absolute beauty and terror.
I don’t know if anyone else has been encountering this, but as of late there seems to be some kind of influx of teen nihilists and kid Camus’s. It feels like the wannabe Nietzsche convention just let out across the block and all the new converts to existentialism are eager to give me their spiel. I’ve had plenty of people telling me something along the lines of “It doesn’t matter anyway” or “Nothing matters”. There are many variations on this but the sentiment stays the same throughout. Maybe it has something to do with a certain cartoon? Who can say?
All I know is that I’m getting pretty sick of it. It’d be a different story if these people caught me in my sophomore year of highschool. Back when I’d successfully convinced myself that no one beyond myself could be proven to exist. That I was an island of consciousness in a sea of pre-programmed encounters and interactions. Yeah I’ll admit it, I was something of a solipsist.
Me and all these new wave nihilists would have had a lot to talk about back then. But I’m over that now, being the only special individual with free will in a world of predestination got boring. I wanted my mother and father and friends back. I wanted light and warmth in my life again.
I pretty much subscribe to the whole “meaning is where you put it” philosophy on life. It’s a lot more fun that way. Sure I still have “What’s the point?” moments, seconds where the vast absurdity of everything comes at me like a tidal wave, but I’ve gotten fairly adept at shrugging them off. If I just keeping doing the things I love, the strangers from my subconscious will stay in their cellars, and abstain from holding that cold cloth between me and the world. However, this is a little more difficult with people yapping at me to abandon the futile torch I hold up to the darkness of the universe. “It’ll just burn out eventually”, sure it will, but for now can’t there be a little light?
Can’t I write some poetry, good and bad (I’ve always thought that the bad sort, in fact, is sometimes the most seeped in the human soul), read some great books, relish my morning coffee, converse with people I care about. I don’t have to be constantly reminded of my mortality. I’ve listened to Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind” enough times to know that I’ve got an expiration date and all I say and do will one day be forgotten. I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade raining, but please leave me out of it. I’m sick of having to compare the tenuous fibers of my happiness to the awaiting empty expanse of eternity.
Sometimes the right poem arrives at the right time, like fire to Prometheus. The stanzas that turn an otherwise purely sorrowful occasion into something remembered with a wistful smile. What would be ‘the awful prom night’ is now ‘the awful prom night with the discovery of T.S Eliot’s The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock at the end of it’. Art in general has the quality to add a silver lining to bleak times, but for me poetry has the greatest ability to stamp a gilded layer upon a melancholic time.
Being fifteen and frustrated I, like many of my ilk, found comfort in the poetry of Charles Bukowski. I’m now a little embarrassed by sway he held over my thought process, but at the time he was like a Sherpa, guiding me through the mountains of budding dissatisfaction and youthful fury. I still read his poems on occasion but find myself turned away by the blatant misogyny and overall crudeness. However, I still reminisce on spring days, where camped outside my therapist’s office, I devoured his ribald lines.
Sylvia Plath found me during an especially bland summer. It was of those summers where the cross country road trip, and all other thrilling expeditions I’d planned, had evaporated into fantasy yet again. I instead spent the days pacing around the house and playing the same video game ad nauseam. On night walks around the block, I’d think I’d spotted a friend in the distance, until recalling that they were off in Aruba, or the like, and I’d been presented with some modern form of mirage. On a stretch of boring summer days like these, I flipped open my Mom’s book of Plath poems and became engrossed.
Shelley’s Ozymandias finds you when you think you’ve wasted your wonder away. Yeats The Second Coming is like a radio signal straight into the pits of your doldrums and disillusionment, somewhere you thought you could not be reached. Perhaps we give off pheromones that attract the right poetry to us at the right times? It seems that if anything divine squats over us, instead of providing any form of direct-spiritual-intervention it sends us a care package of some good writing. Sometimes that is enough.
I don’t know how often I consciously think of the connection between sound and poetry, but I do, on some level, acknowledge it. When writing poetry for instance, I turn off any music that may be playing. If I write to music I find myself following it’s beat whether I mean to or not. Unwittingly mimicking the rhythm of whatever music may pulsate in the background. When I revisit it, sans music, I find it to have a stranded quality to it. Abandoned by the sounds present during it’s gestation. For this reason I try and write in a silent environment, so that the poem can develop its own sound, one it maintains no matter what.
I do regret to say that I end up listening to more music than reading poetry. I do both a fair amount, but it’s far harder to read a poem walking to class or while doing work than listening to a song. However, musicians like Lou Reed, who blur the line between music and poetry, offer me a way to enjoy both at the same time, or at least the illusion of doing so.
Easy access to music not only detracts from my reading and writing of poetry but may also detract from my overall experience with music itself. I read stories and accounts where individuals, long deprived of music, have epiphanic experiences when reintroduced to it. People breaking their auditory fast at some classical concert, or quenching their melodic thirst at a jazz bar, and having ecstatic or perspective shifting experiences. Usually such things take place in the days before music became something that could be stowed away within one’s pocket and channeled through chords into the ears. Never deprived of music I worry that I will never fully appreciate it either.
I guess this has been something of a tangent, but I can attempt to justify my rambling by saying that this surplus of sonic stimulation means I could never write poetry on an experience of lacking it. Lately, I’ve been disheartened by thinking about things, such as what I mentioned above, that I will never be able to experience and write about, but that’d be a whole other page of keyboard meandering. I hope that this wasn’t too all over the place, and that it shines some sort of a light on my relationship with sound and poetry.