Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Let's Take a Break

Should the poet work hard? Current fashions suggest yes, he should: to the office early, and non-stop on the email track until exhausted he slumps home, to sleep under the evening TV; and the adverts that will consume his free weekends.

Do we have any alternative?

In ancient China the poet retired to the wilderness, to a quiet peace, in order to commune with the countryside and the numinous world; which engendered his poetry– reality reborn in words. The golden age of Hebrew poetry in Andalusia had a similar idea:

The Hebrew poet’s highest ideal, their notion of the good, and by extension, the good life… called for otium (leisure) as opposed to negotium (absence of leisure), at the heart of which lay the artist’s perennial quest for freedom, freedom from the business of earning a living and for a “relaxation” of mind into a critical, nourishing entanglement with words and the world. It involved formidable scholarship, a considerable range of affective and intellectual experience, and a demanding, self-conscious, sophisticated art. (Peter Cole)

Leisure! Here it is used in a different sense than from today, where it stands for the absence of activity, or for being entertained. Because in our society leisure is the epiphenomena of work, the purpose of our lives, ordained by the corporations and institutions who create both our world and its meaning; we’re wage slaves to their own profit.

It’s an important insight: we need our own time and our freedom. We need leisure! in order to think and to create; and to learn…. And if it’s true that language grows in the mind, as Chomsky has proposed, then it follows that our thoughts will to, and they will need time: to allow for the growth of our ideas and creative impulses. Time to grow?

We need a palace in that old C√≥rdoba, where we can live and dream, become exotic plants, palm trees where our poems ripen; and where a Paul Dirac will sit on every lily pad? Of course! But what happens if these palaces are closed to the poets; when life is run over, conquered by frantic haste? Will the poems, like fountains in a ruined courtyard, dry up and decay; will hastiness kill your culture?

If we need leisure, and I think we do, we also need a new understanding of what leisure means, of how it can be used productively, to enrich us. And perhaps we must also learn, though it sounds incredible, that our “spare” time is more important than our work-time; unless we transform it and give it meaning and purpose.

Only for poets, that privileged sect? No no; it is for everybody who has the urge to work and to create themselves.

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