Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Camels of Mystical Aspiration

Clogged up with tradition, suggests a review of a new anthology of Sufi poetry. Reduced to a genre recycling a fixed set of symbols and metaphors – making the concept come before the feeling; at least over time. In the freshness of the early years I imagine these boundaries, in flux with their own tensions, would have channelled the creative energies, forcing them in new and surprising effects. Later, they become overbearing; too fixed and rigid to invigorate, they become easy handholds for imitative and lazy verse.

Sufi is more than just a genre. It is most famous for its mysticism, expressing experience several layers below the conscious personality. For the reviewer this creates its own problems.

But most mystical treaties and poems are drab. The sort of experience they describe is private, not that it must be secret, but the telling of a love affair with the Invisible and Intangible can be as tedious to others as relating one’s dreams… (Robert Irwin, TLS 18/06/2010)

So we have a dual problem. A poetry reduced to ritual exercises, and an experience too impoverished for representation, because it lacks the concrete specificity of true art; which in turn must contain some transcending quality, some force and liveliness.

All art at its best? Or are we describing only Western art, while the others play by different rules…

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