Broadside #35 – (Summer 2014 / 14.14)

Broadside #33 (Summer 2014 / 14.14)

Rich Murphy

Essay and Poems

The Mind of Europe as Re-enactment
(An Essay as Introduction)

My collection of poems Minds of Europe has two major threads running through it. The first thread or purpose is one of regurgitation, a séance of ideas and themes that today the West believes has been digested or exorcised. The first thread may also be thought of as one of reenactment where this writer attempts to highlight or reply to driving metaphors by the mind of Europe – the modernist poets, thinkers, or writers – in an effort to mine or recreate ideas and to re-mind readers. The second thread or purpose is to suggest that Paul Valery’s European mind that comes forth prominently is Mary Shelley’s monster or one might simply write with a twist, Dr. Frankenstein. Perhaps the latter would be too simply stated and needs the clarification: Dr. Frankenstein’s technocracy. My introduction attempts to clarify what I mean by the two threads.

The collection time-travels back to the 20th century and what is now referred to as the first globalism and examines the travel writing of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound and the writing by various aboriginal intellectuals, including theorists, poets, writers, and scientists. Paul Valery called these intellectuals collectively “the mind of Europe” and clarified what he meant: “Every mind of any scope was a crossroads for all shades of opinion; every thinker was an international exposition of thought. There were the works of the mind in which the wealth of contrasts and contradictory tendencies was like the insane displays of light in the capitals of those days: eyes were fatigued, scorched…” (99). His anxiety diagnosis included “[t]he free coexistence, in all her cultivated minds, of the most dissimilar ideas, the most contradictory principles of life and learning. That is characteristic of a modern epoch” (98). As far as I can tell, the mind of Rich Murphy 08Europe is a Nietzschean idea, one about which Freud and Eliot had something to say. The idea was significant enough to make it a core concept to Modernism and the birth of sociology perhaps.

For example, later in 1929 Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents would suggest that the mind of Europe has a very extensive memory. He suggests that Rome is a kind of palimpsest. Taken from a different position the idea of the mind of Europe not only had deep historical roots going back to ancient Greece but the idea’s influence was felt in its former colonies in America whether the colonialists liked it or not.

Critics such as Northrop Frye took issue with the idea of an original American literature. He granted the possibility of originality while also pointing out similarities in writers such as Homer in the work of Twain. And Hart Crane may have built a Brooklyn Bridge to Europe and back but never could finish the foundation of the work. So while W.C. Williams was throwing English connotations out on a Saturday night in America, other North American writers and thinkers thought there may be a baby in the bath water, ideas and traditions worth holding onto.

On the one hand, we understand that Pound may have appropriated and secularized Hopkins’s “inscapes” in his idea for imagistic language in poetry. On the other hand, Apollinaire embraced the technological advances almost the way a Postmodernist poet does today. Still on another hand, Andre Breton, after reading Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, led the surrealists in trusting the subconscious. Valery himself trusted Mallarme’s symbolist approach to bring something new into the world of art. And of course another transplant, Gertrude Stein, provoked with “Composition as Explanation” and thus encouraged free thinking. I am of course omitting many poets in my examples of what I mean by “minds of Europe.”

As an attempt at reenactments, the manuscript attempts to return to the past to find ideas that may be worth pressing into practice in the present. The manuscript is in the spirit of reenactments. It attempts to reenact as many ideas as close to the modernist tradition in Europe as possible. The idea of “reenacting” is a recent idea that Simon Critchley formulates in his essay “Is Utopianism Dead?”. He states in the essay, published in The Harvard Advocate and posted on YouTube, because capitalism uses the future as its “trump card” radicals must “resist the future and the idea of the future in the name of the potentiality of the radical past and the way that the radical past may shape the creativity and imagination of the present. Radicalism has always been a car whose driver is constantly looking in the rear view mirror” (Critchley). Because war within the modernist movement was bitter and also expressed itself on the battlefields of Europe, twice, one might think that this territory has been trod too many times. However, a good reader of the original works may find possible ways of thinking that help move from the entrenched political thinking and artistic cliché with us today. These poems are attempts at good reading to bring forth the ideas.

One might look back and recognize that what was reflected in Valery’s insight was the democratization of Europe. There was certainly that going on. However, democratization would also have been globalization since the brand of democracy being peddled was made in the USA. Post WWII’s Marshall Plan made certain that democracy was how European countries organized themselves. The democracies needed to be free enterprise zones as opposed to the people’s democracy of the Soviet Union. What choices! So what an astute witness was seeing was capitalist democracy globalizing, taking hold in the various spheres of European society as each sphere (new and old) struggled for position, some with a definite socialist twist to this day.

What seemed to be the overwhelming motivator by the scientific community, by political factions, and by commerce was the desire for control within cultures. The artists and poets played an active role, to the point where Eliot, Pound, and others resided in Europe to defend European art and culture while with their presence helping to globalize it. Post World War II American fiction highlights the desire for control by global power brokers. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 may be the best known example of American fiction satirizing the dominance of corporations over nation states: Milo Minder Binder states, “The government has no business in business, and I would be the last person in the world to ever try to involve the government in a business of mine. But the business of government is business…” (329). Currently, this point in history is often referred to as the first globalism, distinguishing it from the 1990s to present day’s globalism and the rise of the rest.

In the wrestling for control, sciences formulated, technocrats made practical, and commerce manufactured and sold, creating a mind that would easily fit Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein’s Monster, the technocrat directing the mind and science of Dr. Frankenstein. The nation states follow behind with a broom, making claims of superiority. The poems in my manuscript suggest the monster is us in our technocracy that grew from the slaughter of WWI to the crematoria of Auschwitz and Nagasaki and is now reaching its birthday or “endtime” as Slavoj Zizek would say. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak would agree: for efficiency’s sake we engage genetic engineers to help construct a docile but capable citizenry, while at the same time keep watch, hunt down, and pin-point criminal suspects and “pre-revolutionaries” with nano-drones. The process and result of the efficiency are known as corporate violence.

The future for the West is suggested in the “monster” poems that wind through the collection. For instance, the poem “History According to Mary Shelley” is not the past but the future about which her legend warns. Five such poems run through the collection, highlighting the minds of poets, novelists, and thinkers. Below are a few poems to give readers examples from the manuscript.

Works Cited
Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/sisyphus4.html

Critchley, Simon. “Is Utopianism Dead?” Harvard Advocate Winter 2011.
           http://www.theharvardadvocate.com/content/utopianism-dead

Heller, Joseph. Catch 22. Everyman’s Library. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Valery Paul. Paul Valery, an Anthology from The Collected Works of Paul Valery, Ed. by
           Jackson Mathews. Introduction by James R Lawler, Bollingen Series XLV. Princeton:
           Princeton U. Press, 1977.

* * *

Samsa and Delilah

What makes a beetle requires
having once a mere dream
that a hard-working bureaucrat
became an artist. Larvae
and insemination happen outside
the house and any function
a paper stamper could imagine.
The headless and heartless specks
rested on paychecks the office help
brought to wallets for sensible use.
Denial and hope trapped the writer
in a room until sister started whining
on a violin to entertain paying guests.
Interest in morphology seemed
to occur overnight. However,
the reverie grated on family, friends,
the bosses in charge when
the coffee doused evening.
Then the shiny red culture code
nestled into the soft shell
that protects poets from
the empirical order. Converting
into breadwinners soon bore joy
for the naïve blight in boots.

~

The Red Head Lives

While other imaginations dragged
mouth corners around Paris,
or slapped saliva with a brush
along outside walls in European cities,

one head struck against its heart
and lit a way to postmodern joy.
The passion forged the coin surreal
and donated it to the needy poets.

Dancing in fields with horses, towers,
and quatrains, feet anticipated snowy fields
where American astronauts planted flags.
The innovator culture with whom the inventor

raced up and down the streets in celebration,
has failed to bury the death defier
in a dust filled century. In the hotel
where the lobby and bathroom drains

babble and the fish in the clean underwear
continue to learn how to thumb noses
at hunger, children on a page offer
to occupy workers more than once upon a time.

~

The Italian Medic

Threading the eye in Armageddon with irony,
the surgeon sutured the wars as best a point
could through poetry. With pens,
international hacks butchered enemies
and blotted wounds with a mystic ideology.
Sometimes, ankle deep in blood, the boot
limped around the Mediterranean.
All the while a town on the leg on the trip
through the 20th Century remained
a beauty mark: The dignity was insignificant
to the defeat and despair. Clizia
with bowed head against the storm
and unlearning dignity turned toward insects
on paper. Rough, scanty horizons
dazzle on the page: Cuttlefish bones,
birdseed for the morning concert.
Iris, taking shelter with Nestor, witnessed
the shipwrecked people tossed
right and left by armies denying first aid.

~

Twentieth Century Zombie

The body ignores that the self
doesn’t live there anymore.
Shelves on the interior back wall
hold breath, organ music,
a half dozen autobiographies.
The furniture covered in sheets
or missing altogether sparks
no memory. Each morning
a hand drags a comb across
the head, and feet shuffle
to the commuter rail. Job
descriptions require yeses
and smiles to cues until efficiency
catches up with cubicles on the floor,
so shock and “awe shucks”
vibrate through office chairs.
Characters in TV reruns tease
and laugh at the sofa
propping the carcass.
Though many containers
always lacked reflection mechanisms
or possessed only a mirror,
Psyche ditched the meat market:
Three altruists pinched a monkey,
a wallet, and an iceberg bottom
into the skulls heading for guilt trips.

(previously published by The End Times)

~

Primo Power Primer

Coercion and threats dragged
ethnic leaders into the grey zone
to determine how shots would ring out –
blame, blame: Blood on hands.
Choiceless choices seeded the rows
plowed through Austria to the war
within the fog. Kindness killed
a kind: the rollover to death.
Flagging work camp drudges
surrendered under the haze
from the power that left
historians swamped in illusions.
Jack boots muddied the borders
and the kills around a continent
deep into the 21st Century.
Cropped generations produced
the garden starved by today.
The farmers stoop in newspaper
microfiche weeding words for a rose.

~

                                                            Steps to Thinking

                                                                    “Thinking without a banister” –Arendt

                                                     and empathize against Sisyphus who tacks
                                                     through the wilderness into Prometheus.
                                            and watch caps. Palms polished railings
                                            to this day so that the travelers bond
                                   could not emulate the experience,
                                   even while wearing bellbottoms
                          woke up to the rare occasion,
                          the sightseers and wallflowers
                  soaked the foreigners on vacation.
                  While the visitors to the mast and wind
         the gaspers on the stairs. The dancer
         without hands sailing up into thought
Performing handstands on the banisters
for thinking, the houseguest delighted

~

Steps to Thinking

“Thinking without a banister” –Arendt

Performing handstands on the banisters
for thinking, the houseguest delighted
the gaspers on the stairs. The dancer
without hands sailing up into thought
soaked the foreigners on vacation.
While the visitors to the mast and wind
woke up to the rare occasion,
the sightseers and wallflowers
could not emulate the experience,
even while wearing bellbottoms
and watch caps. Palms polished railings
to this day so that the travelers bond
and empathize against Sisyphus who tacks
through the wilderness into Prometheus.

(previously published by Poetry Quarterly)

* * *

Rich Murphy’s poetry has been published widely in such journals as Rolling Stone, Poetry Magazine, Grand Street, New Letters, Negative Capability, Confrontation Magazine, Inertia Magazine, Barrelhouse Review, West 47 (Ireland), Aesthetica Review (England), New Delta Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and the anthology Imaginary Syllabi (Palm Press, 2011). His books and chapbooks include Americana (The Poetry Press of Press Americana, 2015), Voyeur (Gival Press, 2009), and Paideia (Aldrich Press, 2013).

***

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