All posts tagged “Plato

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The Hatred of Poetry, Ben Lerner (2016)

Ben Lerner’s brief essay makes some smart if not new points about poetry’s most ancient and fundamental sorrow: It cannot succeed. The “re” in “representation” means that poetry’s always at a remove from the genuine. Plato was the first to note this bummer; folks still aren’t over it. As Lerner correctly writes, “The fatal problem with poetry: poems.” An ideal and perfect Poetry can exist as an imaginative category, but every actual poem has fallen and will fall short of that ideal. Lerner quotes George Oppen: “Because I am not silent, the poems are bad.” Lerner: “Hating on actual poems . . . is often an ironic if sometimes unwitting way of expressing the persistence of the utopian ideal of Poetry.” Exactly right. Poems are always large or small failures, but the beauty and force of Poetry is eternal.

So what then? My personal advice: If the ideal matters to you, instead of writing poems, be a poet. (Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to write poems to be a poet.) Lerner astutely points out that “‘Poetry’ is supposed to signify an alternative to the kind of value that circulates in the economy as we live it daily, but actual poems can’t realize that alternative,” because the making of poems is just another commodity production process. But being a poet merely means that you are devoted to the idea of the ideal. It doesn’t mean you think yourself (or anyone else) capable of realizing or reifying that ideal. That would be crazy. Writing poems is a doomed enterprise, but to be a poet is to live a dream. The only downside is that I mean that literally; you can only be a poet in your dreams. Once you wake up, you’re just a writer of poems, a failure.

I hope Lerner writes more criticism; he seems capable of being in uncertainties, which is my chief qualification for a critic. Nice read.

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Eye in the Sky, Gavin Hood (2016)

160610062607848869Looking at that movie poster, you could certainly be forgiven for expecting explosions and secret missions and hand to hand combat and all that, but action fans will in fact be gravely disappointed here, unless your idea of action is a dramatic reading of Book VIII of Plato’s Republic. While an American drone hovers over a house in Nairobi where suicide bombers are readying an attack, American and British military officers, lawyers, and politicians conduct a lengthy debate over the rules of engagement. The trouble, you see, is that a cute little girl is selling bread just outside the house, within the blast radius.

The movie goes to great pains to exhaust all sides of the debate. Unfortunately, the conversation is both predictable and unrealistic. How do we balance the certain loss of one innocent with the probable loss of many more? That’s the question the grownups keep asking each other. An oldie but a goodie. Trouble is, I don’t believe for a second that these people would actually be having this conversation in this situation; in real life that missile would have been fired before I’d even started on my popcorn. But OK, if this is more of a morality play than a realist fiction, that’s fine, but in that case, why not go all the way and actually have people explore this issue in a more complex and surprising way? Is it really the case that the only choices are to kill a little or be killed a lot?

Earnest and well-intentioned but not as provocative as it could have been.