Monday, June 12, 2017

Ten Years Ago Today

Divine aporia

By Moristotle

[Originally published on June 12, 2007, not one word different.]

I have long regretted that I didn’t study much classical rhetoric in college. My knowledge of technical terms in poetics and prosody has barely kept me afloat as I’ve tried to tread water reading literary essays and criticism. So my interest was piqued last October when a young Hollywood screenwriter [JD Payne] suggested I look at M. H. Abrams’s Glossary of Literary Terms. And I’ve since discovered Chapel Hill’s own English Professor William Harmon’s Handbook to Literature. Not bedside reading for everyone, but I delight in both books.
    This morning I had occasion to look up a technical term in Harmon, for last night I came across a passage in David Lodge’s Nice Work that seemed to bear on my recent infatuation with seminal contradictions and their seeming to provide a ground for the concepts of “believing all things” and “all things are possible”—which, for me, are admirably expressed by Howard Nemerov’s short poem that I am fond of citing1.
    Robyn Penrose’s term of shadowing Vic Wilcox under the Industrial Year Shadow Scheme has come to an end, but an inspired Vic has wangled an extension of the program by which he will now shadow Robyn. In the first of Robyn’s tutorials that he will observe, the discussion has turned to a line from Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall” whose use of the word “grooves” seems to defy interpretation: “Let the great world spin for ever, the ringing grooves of change.”

“It’s an aporia,” said Robyn. “A kind of accidental aporia, a figure of undecidable ambiguity, irresolvable contradiction. We know Tennyson intended an allusion to railways, and, as Helen said, we can’t erase that knowledge...But we also know that railway trains don’t run in grooves, and nothing that does run in grooves seems metaphorically adequate to the theme. As Simon says, trams aren’t very poetic. So the reader’s mind is continually baffled in its efforts to make sense of the line.” [p. 243]
    I turned to Harmon for more2:
Aporia: A difficulty, impasse, or point of doubt and indecision. Used to describe a species of irony in which a speaker expresses uncertainty but intends none, as in this sentence: “I don’t know what scares me more—your stupidity or your dishonesty.” Aporia has also been used by recent critics to indicate a point of “undecidability” in a text, which indicates the site at which the text most obviously dismantles or deconstructs itself.
I muse whether “God” intended the irony implicit in the seminal contradictions of the Cosmos (freedom, for example). The overarching “divine aporia” seems to be that in dismantling and deconstructing itself, Being creates and constructs all, including in the food chain and the inexorable opposition of Good and Evil, not to mention another that affects us all: the fact that because we were born we will also die.

  1. “Creation Myth on a Moebius Band”:
The world’s just mad enough to have been made
By the Being his beings into Being prayed.
  1. Fifth edition of A Handbook to Literature. New York: Macmillan, 1986.
Copyright © 2017 by Moristotle

1 comment:

  1. This article in the NY Times is curiously resonate with aporia: "Trump and the True Meaning of ‘Idiot’.” Excerpt:

    Humans evolved for the most part by putting community first and the individual second. Despite many of the political narratives that posit a mythological “state of nature,” in which selfish, violent, atomistic individuals must forgo their natural liberties and make compromises and contracts to secure their own existence, scientific evidence simply does not support this. For creatures like us, self-preservation was always also social preservation. The “I” is in its very existence also a “we.”

    The idiot does not understand this, and thus does not understand how he came to be, how he is sustained and how he is part of a larger ecology. The idiot cares nothing about public life, much less public service. The idiot cares only about his own name. The idiot, by way of his actions, can destroy the social body. Eventually, the idiot destroys himself, but in so doing, potentially annihilates everyone along with him. He is a ticking time bomb in the middle of the public square.