Some of the most extreme acts of writing now being composed in the capitalist Anthropocene are being performed by petrochemicals. What does it look like to write in response to this writing? How do we “make oil a more conceptually powerful part of our knowing,” as Imre Szeman suggests must happen as part of any larger political activism?
When I take an old knick knack from your shelf, a trinket, even one covered in a skim of dust, I might imagine some memory lying under that layer. It is neither my memory nor yours, yet our creative entanglement is moved by the attention, this encounter.
The consolations of art are limited. As are we. It is supreme arrogance to imagine otherwise. We must, nonetheless, swell these limits, make them swollen to the point, even, of suffering. This is the consolation of art – messy consolation though it sounds. Simone Weil tells us, “It is an act of cowardice to seek from (or wish to give) the people we love any other consolation than that which works of art give us” (65). It is brave, then, to insist on attending acutely to that art – and the everything else it tries to get at – what is unsayable and yet worth attention. This work is the hard stuff of art.
The hard work of the mind considering its attention – its ethical demands – is poetry’s task.
Telling us what to think is not the same as moving the mind to think differently. Powerful art can slow and stun us. The sense of a shock is something to shake off, and yet to draw the reader into silent attention – this is the power that moves us. The mind slows.
I know when art makes me attend better to the world. How might we know the heart breaks – is it metaphor? – if the fissure was not made perceptible? How would we understand the pain of loss if we could not sense absence? There is the hollow, the what-is-not-there. This is the stuff of slowing.
We interact, react. In this both/and simultaneity of art the experience is “intraactive,” in the words of Karen Barad.
Before Benoit Mandelbrot’s fractal mathematics and Gertrude Stein’s roses, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote about a primal plant, “Urpflanze,” which was constructed as a leaf within a leaf within a leaf. I wonder if his Platonic vision for this plant, from which all other plants derived, was an early imagining of fractal mathematics and response to fractal forms in the natural world (coast lines, human migration patterns, Romanesco broccoli). Visual depictions of fractals have no beginnings or endings in time, no inside or outside in space, and self-similarity and repetition occur at all discernible scales. To my eye, these aspects of visual fractals are pleasing. I am also dissatisfied by the undeviating periodicity of fractals.