Self-Experience of the Other

Self-Experience of the Other

Michael McClure

We look at the title of this panel in fine black letters on the program, and it says: Comparisons: Self, Other, Community. Questions arise to me immediately. For instance: can there be other? What is Other? In some sense there can be no other, for we are all at the edge; we are all at the same edge. It is the edge of the precipice that the Fool on the tarot card is strolling along. It is the edge of matter, of what the Greeks call , where material and spirit come into being in nothingness. We write ourselves, our bodies, on what we presume is a common darkness behind our eyes. All this personality that we enact, which is in a sense other, is superfluity; we are our genetic selves made complex in a surface manner by patterns of self-organization and chance occurrences, and accidents, and happenstance. These formations of other come into being through things like the smell of a ripe Fuji apple and the snap and crumble in the mouth as it is chewed by the teeth and moved by the tongue, also there is the beat of the helicopter blades making a roar as we walk through the forest where there are wild columbines and white saxifrage. The mother's hand raised to make a blow in cruelty or kindness is also part of this. In the meaning of individuality of course there is other and in this sense, what does it mean to us as artists, as poets, as thinkers, biologist, adventurers?

In the 1950s, Charles Olson perfected the concept of projective verse and it was then that poetry, for many of us, began to transcend the notion of obscurity. What was obscure in writing took a new foothold as it was enmeshed with the breath of the poet and the energy bound in the inspiring object or new perception initiating the poem. At this time a change takes place in the reception of the poem and what is urgent is not the quantity of the poem that is understood. It is no longer how much one understands literally as one reads the poem. The issue becomes how much one uses the richness of one's being to have the experience of the poem. I think of the effect upon me when I first heard Charles Olson read his poem "The Kingfishers" in the late '50s. I re-experience how deeply I was moved at a level in which I am the other. I remember also how much I am partaking of the sensorium: that is, the sight; the sound, taste; touch; smell; memories; consciousness, of the poet Charles Olson during his reading. It is here that I am myself, using myself in the deepening and myriad experience of the poem in all of its images and directions. I do now know what or how many things happen in the "The Kingfishers" as I listen but they are rich and they move me to experience myself. After hearing "The Kingfishers" I am richer, deeper, broadened, I am living better in Alfred North Whitehead's sense. His meaning is that Reason is the desire towards the improvement of life.

In Robin Blaser's book, The Holy Forest , his poem "Image-Nation 12" begins with these words:

so the ground flows and the heavens are propositional

gifts    of birth   an accomplishment of thought   where

one sits  in silence   a word-boundary

                    so the companions move

who belong to their work    strange unfamiliarity

of the familiar

I make out a boat    the soul's image   a voice   a residence

and the disappearance from a work    over the last

blind note    'Oh,  a boat of friends'   the music of,

logos of   a blinding instrument   our words, mine

among them    wash at the perilous   social, political

hellish and heavenly parts 

So: These words of Robin Blaser's poem go deep and come from a deep place. They seem to come initially from a dimension beyond the other . They come from a place on another side where we all mingle as one. It is here that we share a boat of matter, where material and spirit are one single thing as best we can guess. At a profound level we might imagine that each and every one of us is free-floating in the universe. I imagine that there is nothing beneath us or above us, that there is no floor, no substrate or ceiling, and that we are each, as Alfred North Whitehead would have it, a point of novelty in which we are the universe experiencing or prehending itself. In this self-experience of the universe the other has disappeared, and we are in the role of the total, knowing itself.

Other is an idea resembling a particle in physics that blinks in and out of existence depending on stance or viewpoint or manners of observation. Other is a fantasy just as the particle in physics is a fantasy. More profound things, because we can experience them directly, because we prove them to ourselves, are less of a fantasy.

In the opening words of his poem, "Image-Nation 12," Robin has introduced, as he does so often, the idea of soul, and it is, of course, not a soul that one is born with, which is a doubtful proposition, but the soul that we are at liberty to create in what John Keats proposes is a vale of soul-making. This is much less of a fantasy, being more immediately palpable to those engaged in soul-making, than is the physics of superstrings and hadrons, though we take pleasure in such perceptions.

We live in the insights of yoga, Buddhism, agnosia, the paintings of Jess, the war on the environment. Such a catalog is personal and is other and without limit. This soul-making is a complex affair if we look closely, and also it is the simplest thing if we look from a little distance. When I read Robin's "Image-Nation 12" I am deepened; I am given my experience of Robin's poem. What is urgent is not the quantity that is understood as one reads this poem, but how much one uses the richness of one's being to have the experience of the poem.

Blaser immediately continues his poem "Image-Nation 12" with these lines:

world is in accordance with my

perspective in order to be independent

of me   is   for me in order to be without me
I am a boat out of an apple tree both ends are golden (Veda the labyrinthine differences or I'm a horseman with prowess in the rodeo, but what is the shape of the horse the uncertain Wavering swift to harry gods and goddesses at the ends of our worlds dead or alive discoursing that is to say, running around arranging things, ourselves among them centrifugal, after our brief hangup among things working again and again with that operational language always, and incorporeal matter, sharp as sticks and stones visible visible visible heart-heartless a wreckage, if he goes there and I love these instabilities of unstable institutions we speak a washboard the Sudden radiates the work of it drinks us up

These lines of Blaser's poem, "Image-Nation 12," are a picture and description of soul-making. Yet it is not at all a simple thing to describe, and words are not the means to describe soul-making. Soul-making is itself, and it exists in itself, as we become more complex. What is it? in the forest under the giant evergreens there are tiny, five-petalled, red-pink roses in a patch of sun -- they are gleaming. In a car on top of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco one finds the body of young man with bullet holes in his head. One smells the strench of the street where an old woman in rags is lying asleep. There is the taste of ripe orange mango on the tongue. One walks through a small herd of wild zebra. One takes peyote and doorways of experience open into the previously unimagined. There is the memory of the sound of rain from childhood as cars pass in the evening. The soul is made from many interlayerings of countless events. The soul does not continue to live after our bodies are gone. The soul is what, as Robert Duncan pointed out, our body inhabits. Our body inhabits the soul we make. Others lend their gifts and enrichments to that soul. Then when we have a soul, when it is accomplished, we are more other . We are more unique, specialized, original, different. The other has then been achieved.

Even a body inhabiting a soul is, as Whitehead would say, a point of novelty in the mode of prehension of the universe. This feels more complex or richer than the point represented by a boulder on the side of a hill. It seems that we are richer in layering of experience and consciousness. We are then more other: the poems that we read, write, and listen to, to feed our soul making, such as "Image-Nation 12." or "The Kingfishers," allow us to become more different. That is correct and yet we also become more transparent fields of the world's self-prehension. The complexity of the self-experience we have gained has made us richer. In this case we are deeper in whatever is behind matter, material, , and we are less other than we would have dreamed before our creation and experience began.

This is a complex way to begin to express a series of thoughts in a set of notes. Here is another way. Robin Blaser introduced me at a poetry reading in Vancouver years ago and as part of his introduction he read my poem "Action Philosophy." He presented the poem with more clarity and more experience of the poem than I had ever accomplished in any reading of mine. He showed me in this reading areas of experience in the poem that I had not allowed myself. I did not know they were there till his reading of the poem. Is this other Or is this deepening? What strange vocabularies we use.

In the mid-fifties I came to San Francisco and the Bay Area of California. There were few poets there but they were luminous poets, they dreamed and wrote and battled and laughed into being the possibilities of a new art that had not existed before . Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser, Mary Fabilli, had already created a new archipelago of poetry in Berkeley. Philip Lamantia, Kenneth Rexroth, William Everson, Madeline Gleason, James Broughton and others were also active in making that ground fertile for those of us who arrived as young men and women from many parts of the country.

Blaser begins a poem for bp nichol:

 'the universe is part of ourselves

we have been everywhere, suddenly,

and twisted the clarities into bottles

and casements

it was the lintel that concerned us

we walked through and wondered

My regards to you, Robin Blaser.

Michael McClure