Monday, January 02, 2006

Norman Responds

A nice note from Norman--caffeine makes me alliterative--about my musings from yesterday.
Since I'm one of the subjects of your latest post, I'm reluctant to say too much in response. Then again, since we do have a history, let me note that the "athletic, exultant" Nietzscheanism which Prof. Vendler poses against Heidegger gives me the willies. Too much muscularity and potential triumphalism there for this diasporic Yid, Eric, so I'll stick to rupture and longing, thanks, not that I can ever shake 'em. Or what Heidegger (no great role model either!) calls Geworfenheit.

Additionally, I don't buy the "overcoming" of nostalgia in Keats or Stevens. They continued to study the nostalgias (as Stevens and Blooms would say) right up to the end. At best, they--and we--can repress the nostalgias for a time. But we all know where that leads...
Hmmm.... Clearly I have some work to do! I don't know what Geworfenheit means, other than perhaps "the state of being like Lieutenant Worf from Star Trek: the Next Generation." (Probably not.)
And I'm not sure, for example, that Vendler actually says that Keats or Stevens "overcomes" nostalgia; in fact, I'm sure she doesn't--that was my fumbling attempt at a verb. Here's what she does say:
Keats, a resolute nonbeliever and political radical, came into a post-Enlightenment world, it is true, but it was still a world which felt some of those pangs of loss later expressed by Heidegger. Keats too felt a religious nostalgia, and it entered into many of his own meditations on the functions of the poet; but he did not confine himself within that framework (116).
Although she does not speak of Stevens later in the essay, I suspect that he, too, would count as a poet who felt nostalgia, but "did not confine himself within that framework." The question would then be, I suppose, whether one can "feel nostalgia" and "study nostalgia" without remaining trapped within it. Whether, indeed, one might indulge nostalgia and investigate nostalgia--even one's own--without fooling oneself that some other state (wholeness, faith, certainty) is actually what one desires.

What do I mean by this? Grrrr.... Let's strip it down to something practical. I know many, many non-Halakhic Jews, both religiously affiliated and utterly on-their-own, and almost of them feel any real nostalgia for "halakhic certainty." None would trade their misbelief, disbelief, or make-believe-belief for any sort of blessed assurance. Does this mean that they do not feel nostalgia? Not necessarily--but what they miss, or feel they miss, might be better understood in purely social and psychological terms than in religious ones. And even here, they're savvy enough to know that the price of what they feel nostalgia for--some version of "community," I suppose--is far higher (in freedom, in modernity, etc.) than they'd ever be willing to pay. And some don't feel that they're missing anything, really, at all. That may not be a Nietzschean confidence, but it's not loss & rupture, either.

Now, it may be that this degree of comfort is inimical to poetry: that to be a poet is to testify, with Emily Dickinson, that "A loss of something ever felt I," whatever that Something might be. But I'm not entirely sure that's true, and I'm not entirely sure that all poetry--even all of your poetry, Norman--really bears it out.

Time to reread Richard Poirier's The Renewal of Poetry, I think, and "A Poem for the Little Shoemakers," from Restless Messengers. Until then, here's the Dickinson to savor:

A loss of something ever felt I --
The first that I could recollect
Bereft I was -- of what I knew not
Too young that any should suspect

A Mourner walked among the children
I notwithstanding went about
As one bemoaning a Dominion
Itself the only Prince cast out --

Elder, Today, a session wiser
And fainter, too, as Wiseness is --
I find myself still softly searching
For my Delinguent Palaces --

And a Suspicion, like a Finger
Touches my Forehead now and then
That I am looking oppositely
For the site of the Kingdom of Heaven --

1 comment:

Norman Finkelstein said...


I'm moving my son to NYC tomorrow so he can begin his brilliant literary career, so again, I will be brief. Klingons aside, Geworfenheit is Heidegger's term for our state of "having been thrown" into existence, which as I understand it (especially via Hans Jonas in The Gnostic Religion) always involves loss and decenteredness. Bloom uses the term in translation, via Jonas, as well. The kind of Jewishness we've been wrestling with, aside from its gnostic flavoring, certainly is related to that kind of disconnectedness. For Heidegger the solution is opening oneself to Being; perhaps for us, it's returning to the Law, which, as ribboni, we can't manage. So again, our poetry must remain adrift and diasporic. Of course, I'm open to alternatives...

Otherwise, I totally agree with you about investigating nostalgia. I think we can even speak of the uses of nostalgia, which may apply to some of my work. And yes, that's where Keats and Stevens may be too. So am I in good company or what?

Happy trails...