Thursday, June 10, 2010

The School of Disembodied Poetics

Contextual Practice: Assemblage and the Erotic in Postwar Poetry and Art is the title of a new book from Stephen Fredman published by Stanford University Press. Explaining the influence of HPB on the American poet Robert Duncan (1919-1988), who was part of the creative world of San Francisco in the 1940s and 50s with Harry Smith and Allen Ginsberg, Fredman writes:

Later, this would enable him to assert that the founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, evinced in the incredible hodge-podge of her writings an intuitive understanding of how the esoteric and avant-garde might work together. “In the mess of astrology, alchemy, numerology, magic orders, neo-Platonic, kabbalistic, and Vedic systems, combined, confused, and explained, queered evolution and wishful geology, transposed heads,” Blavatsky discovered, Duncan claims, “the collagist’s art.”

The elements of collage he discerns in Blavatsky include a “charged fascination” with the material being composed, an obedience to unknown but compelling feelings, and a new respect for discarded phenomena: “Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, midden heaps that they are of unreasonable sources, are midden heaps where, beyond the dictates of reason, as in the collagist’s art, from what has been disregarded or fallen into disregard, genres are mixed, exchanges are made, mutations begun from scraps and excerpts from different pictures…to form the figures of a new composition.”

Perhaps we have been looking at HPB’s works in the wrong way and need to see with new eyes, or rather a new way of seeing, of intuiting, what has been before us all the time. This may explain the ready acceptance HPB has had among artists, especially in the avant-garde. Perhaps through her we can trace an influence to the “Beat” writers who believed that “literature should come from the soul without conscious restrictions.”

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