I’d say that most people would probably agree that language is two-sided. It helps human beings perform feats of creative consciousness; it also sets them apart from the natural world, licences them to condescend to nature. As an imaginative involvement in language as opposed to a utilitarian exploitation of language, poetry plays a magical role in ushering people into their bodies and, at the same time, into the spiritual realm. It can put the rational analytical ego in abeyance and re-align human beings with nature. I’d say that the creative imagination is survival equipment — biological and spiritual. It appears that intelligence alone hasn’t stopped human beings from ruining the natural world. The language of great poetry enacts and embodies a vision that mends the rifts between human consciousness and nature — rifts that, paradoxically and tragically, humanity has set up with the aid of language that sustains the dominance of the ego.
What is the purpose of literature anyway? I ask myself: Doesn’t it define the ongoing human relationship with nature, the cosmos, the other-than-the-ego? To mention again the Prometheus myth: it’s one of the earliest stories, yet it functions as powerfully today as it must have in Greece in 500 B.C.: as a precise imaginative comment on human hubris. For me, it’s the same hubris that may allow the Canadian government to send immense tankers full of bitumen down the BC coast when Enbridge admits that there’s a 10% chance of tanker accidents that will result in spills. And bitumen, unlike oil and gas, cannot be cleaned up. The authentic poet, for me, puts him or herself on a cross, so to speak, at the juncture of different discourses, the rational and the imaginative, to illuminate the human predicament.
- Russell Thornton, in conversation with Elena E. Johnson over at Event Magazine. You can read the whole thing here.