Meditation and Poetics – 82 (Philip Whalen and Abstraction)

                                                       [Philip Whalen (1923-2002)]

Student: Allen, (I just wanted to read to you) from Philip Whalen’s  Small Tantric Sermon”)

  “To say concisely/That the man in the picture. Really made it out through the roof/ Or clear through the floor, the ground itself/ Into free space beyond direction – /  Impossible gibberish no one/ Can understand, let alone believe/”

AG: Yeah

“Still, I try, I insist I can/Say it and persuade you/That the knowledge is there that the revelation/is yours.”
AG: Um-hmm. But you see, he has made this large generalized statement in such a funny (way). He’s made a very funny statement, that a man, (Philip Whalen, the man went up to the picture…I forgot.. went out to the roof into space, and then he qualified it, realizing he’s talking on a level that’s really incomprehensible, literally, and to say that this is gibberish, And then he says, “But anyway I’m going to try and say it”

Student: All he does is that?

AG: Yeah, So he goes and comes back. So he touches some kind of common home-base constantly, going and coming back. There the thing would be somewhat logopoeia,because in the common situation of trying to say something about empty space, suntaya, in this case, open mind, non-conceptual, he’s tried to say it abstractly, then he realizes that the abstraction doesn’t make any sense to others, probably, says it’s gibberish, then he has this lyric moment of saying, “But I’m still going to try and say it”. So the definiteness there is in the wavering and coming back, back and forth, between those levels of mind, or poetry. The definiteness is him showing his struggle, not in asserting “I have said it”. The definiteness is in him saying, “I didn’t say it” – Dig? – In other words, it’s the definiteness of him showing how his mind operated there. So there, in a sense, the mind and the attempt to write the poem is the subject, rather than the sunyata.Does that make sense?. It’s the drama of his trying to say it and wavering back and forth, sort of the Romantic drama, of his trying to say it and wavering back and forth, that’s what makes it definite. Or – the definiteness is in the drama going back and forth.

Abstraction is possible as lyric. I think I mentioned that the other day – Lyric Abstraction – i.e. the line in (Shakespeare’s) King Lear, which is a dramatic moment, when he yells out, “..never,never, never, never, never!”. It’s a guy talking and that’s the insistency, so that it’s actually a concrete line, or an objective line, in the sense that the object is this guy yelling, the emotion of this guy yelling “..never,never, never, never, never!”. A scream is also an object, on the stage, is definite in the form that I was trying to suggest that we try, (since I think the problem is excessive abstraction and lack of focus and lack of definiteness) as a beginning. So I’ve been going over and over again the first grounding of vipassana-style poetry – insight into definite objects, because, I think, unless you have that under you, you wouldn’t be able to have the humor that Whalen has in his poem (Whalen, who was brought up on Williams, and who also specializes in very definite, clearly-defined poems) and so that little outrageous outburst is sort of a little definite outrageous outburst in the midst of a definite world. Or doesn’t that make sense?  – Yes?

Student: (And Bob Dylan has that grounding)

AG: Yeah. I don’t think it would be possible for him to do (those) abstract things unless he was first grounded though. Because then the grounding comes into logopoeia. I mean, say, “To live outside the law you must be honest”, there’s no definite thing there, true, but there is certainly a definite…

Student:  (It’s the end of class)
AG: Pardon me?
Student: (End of class)
AG: Oh, I’m sorry. Okay.Out, out damned spot”.  Well, let’s continue on this point..

tape and class end here

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-six-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-minutes in]

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