Rather than continuing to bombard everybody with poems that try to address the question of opacity–although perhaps I will do that later–I decided I should perhaps talk about it.
I had an interesting moment last night. Someone close to me was reading the “astringent chemicals” poem, and while not able to say anything about it as a whole, remarked that she found the last line “haunting,” without being able to say why. There is something illuminating about this.
A feeling can be achieved in the reader without any sense of explicit comprehension. Pretty important. It creates whole fields of questions above the usual “How is meaning transmitted?” and more like “What kinds of meaning are there?” I considered that moment, in which the reader experienced a feeling of discomfort and dissonance at the lack of intelligibility, and yet was able to reconstruct an emotional response, a kind of success. And I am particularly intrigued by the word, “haunting,” since to be haunted by something is both wonderful and terrifying. To be always in mind of something mysterious. Perhaps my goal is/has been to “haunt” my readers. Or, to use a textbook definition of “haunt,” only to “visit them often.”
I think the question that naturally comes next is, “Well, if there was no explicit comprehension of the poem, what caused the haunting?” I’m confused by this as well. One the one hand, there is no explicit comprehension. On the other hand, there is a creation of meaning. “If A, then B” does not apply in the traditional way. There must be another form of comprehension. Maybe a clue to the answer is in the question itself, in the word “explicit.” There must be different types of comprehension. “Implicit,” then? What does that mean?
- Implied or understood though not directly expressed: an implicit agreement not to raise the touchy subject.
- Contained in the nature of something though not readily apparent: “Frustration is implicit in any attempt to express the deepest self” (Patricia Hampl).
- Having no doubts or reservations; unquestioning: implicit trust.
(I know that their relevance aren’t immediately apparent, but perhaps we should be learning to distrust the relevance of immediate apparency: the Romanian for “implicit” is “total,” and in both Swedish and Norwegian, it is “blind.” Those are the words as they are written. Do what you can with those…)
Okay, so let’s examine that definition. The first one is the obvious one, the one we probably all had in mind. The second is more interesting: “contained in the nature of something.” Okay, so if we apply that to the first formulation, we get that there is “implicit comprehension” of the poem, meaning that comprehension is “contained in the nature of something though not readily apparent.” Important and divisive moment here. Is that “something” whose nature contains the meaning the poem, or the person? In other words, is comprehension preexisting in the reader, or in the poem itself?
If it preexists in the reader, then the poem itself is only the site in which meaning is revealed. That meaning was always there in the reader to begin with. Questions: Is this true for all readers, or does it vary? Can all readers bring meaning to poetry? Do the meanings they bring interact with anything in the poem, and change as a result, or are they stable and unaffected? If yes to that last one, then what “key” creates access to the preexisting meaning in the reader?
If comprehension preexists in the poem, then I am really confused. How is it possible that a poem could understand itself? But that’s not it, exactly. There is something in the poem that contains the reader’s own comprehension, and is inseparable from it. That is, the poem is both question and answer. But a question and answer that only occur in the reader. But occur in each reader. There is almost something invasive about this, as though reading a poem is quite literally the same as having your mind occupied and used by a concept. Rather than the other way around.
This should really derange our discussion of opacity.