This blog has moved to Please make a note, and I look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mackey's use of Lorca: The feeling of Duende

[This is a continuing series of posts that reflect on Nathaniel Mackey's Songs of the Andoumboulou, a series of poems that Mackey has been working on through three books. His latest book with Andoumboulou poems in them, Splay Anthem, won the National Book Award. I take into consideration his allusions, Mackey's prose, interviews with him, and critical discussions of his work. As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. To access all of the posts, click on "Nathaniel Mackey" in the list to the right.]

[I am currently discussing Mackey's book Whatsaid Serif. If for some reason you cannot buy it (and I sincerely hope you do), many of the poems can be found here. Also, Mackey reads 10 of the poems with musical accompaniment on an album entitled Strick.

Mackey focuses less on the "Deep Song" essay of Lorca's and more on "Play and Theory of the Duende," which was published in The Poetics of the New American Poetry. A great Andalusian singer, Manuel Torre, claims that "'all that has black sounds has Duende.' These 'black sounds' are the mystery, the roots fastened in the mire that we all know and all ignore, the fertile silt that gives us the very substance of art." (In Search of Duende, New Directions, 1998.)

Tomorrow I will discuss Mackey's specific take on duende. But here, I think we can use Torre's claims to identify one of the most original contributions Mackey has made to contemporary poetry.

He is writing a poetry of immanentist reflection.

Immanentism, as I am using it, is a metaphysical term meaning radically within, and is generally contrasted with a metaphysic that asserts there is another, transcendental realm.

Most reflective poetry in the Western tradition has been transcendental. It has used the iambic pentameter line (or a close equivalent) to discuss experience from an authoratative place separate from it. (Think Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach.") The feeling I get from all of Wallace Stevens' major reflective poems is that he is taking an outside view, he is the observer. It follows, then, that Stevens must allow for some sort of transcendence that allows him this outside perspective to reflect as he does.

For Mackey, there is no transcendence.

This claim may seem crazy when applied to a poet so interested in religion. However, his verse is concerned with moving through "the roots fastened in the mire," and is a reflection on that movement. That is one of the reasons Mackey is so hard to pin down: in the immanent realm, all is qualified, all is mitigated. A direct approach to understanding will only cover over "the fertile silt that gives us the very substance of art."

Lorca describes the muse "as distant and so tired." Distant. This smacks of transcendence.

If Mackey does not allow for this transcendence to complicate his notion of immanence, what does he use?

The answer is borders. Mackey is consistently interested in the culturally excluded or ignored: The Dogon, African-Americans, Andalusians and their disparaged music, the heretical Gnostics, heterodox islamic mystics.

A relationship with an angel or muse is infinitely easier than a relationship with the duende: "The true fight is with the duende," insists Lorca.

In the metaphysics of immanence, their is no escape. Any attempt to escape only lands you in the complications of cross-cultural contact, because there is always a border. I have earlier described border as a good word to use in considering Mackey's cross cultural poetics because a border is not absolute — it is not a wide fissure — and the feeling of "crossing a border" is often not rigid and plays over a stretch of land on either side of the demarcation line.

For instance, going from California into Tia Juana would give us a feel of being in border territory, but 250 miles into Mexico and this feeling of border would evaporate, and we would need to come to terms with the specifics of Mexican culture.

It is also important to note that 250 and 500 miles and so forth into Mexico are other Mexican /American borders, ones that ring resort areas. Similarly, for Mexicans there are neighborhoods in almost every American city where a sense of border would come into play.

We are in the immantist world of misdirection, nuance, mitigation, and projection.

It can never come to us whole.

No comments:

Post a Comment