What is this gap between live experience, heart’s blood, and the written word? Or between experience of the world and our postmortem, delayed, and limping descriptions?
This sparkling (but in its way, dark) Bradley quote came my way from Kelly Jolley. I read it in the midst of responding to a friend about his photos and his adoption of walking as an immersion in the world unmediated by sentences.
The view that our primary encounters with the world are pre-linguistic should be a heresy for most linguistic philosophers. But what if the world (or the portion we become immersed in while walking meditatively, or listening immersively), is more like a musical address than a courtroom conversational address?
If a musical address is paradigmatic of meaningful address from the world, then we can be deluged by meaning quite apart from our ability to produce a linguistic report of what that deluge of meaning amounts to. There’s no need to lament this linguistic insufficiency. There’s every reason to be grateful that meaning has been delivered full and clear — meaning enough to let life’s increase carry on.
Immersion in the presence of “things” (say, the presence of a musical address) finds us without a gap between the “Immersed-Me” and the “World-Immersing-Me.” World overflowing without words is just about the last word.
When we’re immersed in nature’s address, or immersed in a photo of a country path, or immersed in the address of music, separation from the world dissolves. I may be captive to a presence, a photo of a country path. After a pause, still captivated, still partially immersed, I tentatively ask what makes the view jump out that way to carry me away. The tilt of this branch? The light bouncing off the water?
I stumble for articulation of the parts that make a large, connected and as yet inarticulated whole. But there is no despair as I stumble for words. The immersive wonder keeps feeding me, keeps immersing me, even as I break the spell in my sideways looking articulation attempts.
I think poetry must be an ambiguous figure in a halfway house between direct sentences that can be easily paraphrased and musical address, for which there is no paraphrase. When we read poetry we often get the sense of deep immersion in a reality that we can only half-translate into straight discourse. We could say the untranslatable level is the musical level.
In viewing a photo or hearing a melody we may resort to poetry as halfway successful in conveying the sense of what we were immersed in and what hasn’t completely disappeared: the happily lingering deep residue of the untranslatable.
If this is right, then poetry is partially pre-linguistic on first encounter, paradoxical as that sounds. The gap between the Immersed-I and the World-Immersing is closed. Word-sounds and looks flow by, carrying off our eyes and ears. Those word-sounds are not merely verbal declarations, imperatives, or assertions. In that sense they are pre-linguistic and like music.