Cummings, Calvino, Wilde, Camus…
I’ve noticed a pattern in my reading and writing. I keep referring to male authors, thinking about their works, and drawing inspiration from them. Most of my grad school writing was about Cummings, some Camus, and also a lot of 19th century male writers (because of institutional sexism in forming the western canon).
Why, do I keep devoting so much time to male authors? Why do I find my voice in men? Why have I devoted so much time to studying men, thinking about men, male writing, male ideas. Why do I find life in men’s words?
I’ve also been interested in the idea of mise-en-abyme for a long time. This term originates in heraldry, with “en abyme” referring to the specific placement of a small shield in a larger shield. Now it has grown beyond its original context to mean the presence of any object/process that is self-referential, embedded in a larger object/process.
I think the reason for this fixation is that I worry so much about place. I have anxieties about overstepping it, not identifying it. But I also have genuine questions about it – what is my place in our larger context, our culture? What is the place of my generation? What is the larger narrative, and how do we fit in? Where do we belong?
“It is this meta-narrative function of mise en abyme which interests me when considering its uses in medieval art – that is to say the ways in which the use of the device contributes to a viewer’s reception of the narrative context in which it occurs.” Stuart Whatling, “Medieval mise-en-abyme”
So if we can unite these two ideas, I have a bunch of dead white men whose work I like and a fusty old literary term that reminds me of some recurring ideas. Small details remind me of larger things, coloring how I look at them, as Whatling says up there. I’m always looking for clues to the “abyme”. I’m looking for clues to a pattern of authors, a pattern that may only exist in my head. Humans love to look at chaos and try to make sense of it. I am no different.
In poetry, I’m concerned with the manufacture of meaning. How do symbols work, how does iconography change? What is it that triggers memes and tropes? What is the point of poetry, what is the point of any of this?
I look to the past for meanings. I look to art. I look to old books, old poems. I look to nature, wanting to tunnel into the forest floor and find out what’s hidden at the roots. What is my place in this abyss?