heavenly hurt

Emily Dickinson (on ‘second death’?):

THERE’S a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;                    5
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
’T is the seal, despair,—                    10
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, ’t is like the distance                    15
On the look of death.

OF bronze and blaze
The north, to-night!
So adequate its forms,
So preconcerted with itself,
So distant to alarms,— 5
An unconcern so sovereign
To universe, or me,
It paints my simple spirit
With tints of majesty,
Till I take vaster attitudes, 10
And strut upon my stem,
Disdaining men and oxygen,
For arrogance of them.

My splendors are menagerie;
But their competeless show 15
Will entertain the centuries
When I am, long ago,
An island in dishonored grass,
Whom none but daisies know.

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6 Responses to heavenly hurt

  1. Arin Vaillancourt says:

    The second death can be interpreted (from my understanding of the past reading and the passionate discussions we’ve been having in class), is that it can either be a symbolic death, i.e. a removal from the symbolic order and then a literal death follows (being the second death), or we have instances like Hamlet where a ghost appears and the when the ghost fades away then that is the second death. Either way, the second death is a forgetting. Any way you spin it, if one is removed from the symbolic order, than life has forgotten you. I personally believe that we are to take Zizek’s ideas in a less literal sense and more in an abstract way, i.e. forgetting. Refer to my post on this topic for a more complete discussion on why we don’t have to treat Zizek as if he is god and knows all of the answers to every philosophical question ever discussed. I digress. Emily Dickinson’s poem is beautiful in it’s melancholy and infinite sadness. So, I could go on and on trying to apply Zizek’s ridiculous theories (most if which I find completely useless) to the wonderful poem that speaks to me on different levels and rip away all of the beauty that it had with it’s mysticism and awe. I could tear down the veil that keeps it caught in the realm between comprehension and obscurity. This may be different for everyone, but I find when we hold a microscope up to art and try to understand every nuance and detail and assign meaning to it, we are stripping it of its mystic beauty. Is not the beauty of art that it remains elusive and evasive to our interpretations? What we’re doing here is pinning butterflies to a board and preserving them so they remain beautiful forever and hidden. It’s really quite selfish what we’re doing in this class. Selfish and elitist. Why are we imposing these lofty interpretations on such works of beauty? Why must we constantly analyze every sentence, every line, and every letter just to find some scrap of meaning? Are our lives truly that barren that we have to hoard all of this beauty to us and dissect it until it is only a mangled pile of viscera? Enlightenment from my point of view is a lonely, sad, and empty place to be. Comprehension and understanding is sucking all of the vitality out of literature.

  2. boearle says:

    This is very well and passionately stated but I don’t follow why it is directed against this class in general and zizk in particular since both are all about defending precisely the kind of irreducible and autonomous aesthetic experience that you describe, ie. the experience of *sublimity*

  3. Tina says:

    Arin, what you said really intrigued me! I really appreciate your courage in speaking out, please don’t ever change. 🙂

    Unfortunately, I really can’t agree with what you said about how the class is trying to mangle the meaning out of every piece of work. I see how we’ve been doing that in high school where we were told to micro-analyse every word and space in order to get extra credit from the teacher, but I’m sure we’ve progressed since then! I’m sure we all get, in some irritatingly vague and blurry fashion, that art is beautiful and elusive and all that, but don’t we need to give this vauge comprehension some sort of a form or shape? I say ‘need’ because how else can we speak of it in words other than ornate and superfluous descriptors that mean nothing? How else can we communicate our grasp of the beautiful and share it with others? It’s like Burke’s gorgeous treatment of the Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, how the horrible lives not in the words on the page but in the inner recesses of your mind, if we just left it as this awesome source of energy and not attempt to strip it of its mysticism and awe, how can we even begin to comprehend its fearfulness and horror?

    (It’s lovely how we just learned about Keats last class but I’ve come to realize that I’m just incapable of negative capability. I blame my years of indoctrination in an Asian education system)

    I also don’t see how the class has been treating Zizek as a god. I for one have really been abusing him – I take what I like from what he has to say, mangle and throttle it until it becomes what I want it to be, then present it as my own grasp of the material. He is so VAGUE that it’s almost as if he’s giving me permission to do so. (And yes, I do see signs of sadism in what I’ve just written.)

    So we’re not being selfish or elitist, I think, but rather we’re just ravenous pleasure-beasts who want to derive as much satisfaction as possible from grasping at the beauty we see before us. It’s like an orgasm, really.

    • Arin Vaillancourt says:

      That’s okay Tina, it’s better if you don’t agree with me. I don’t agree with myself half the time either. I like what you’ve written, I agree wholeheartedly with some of the points you’ve brought up as well (Is that paradoxical? Probably). You shouldn’t change. Don’t applaud me for raining my negative thoughts all over this website.

      You could call it courage, it tends to be synonymous with stupidity in my case. 😉

      “I’m sure we all get, in some irritatingly vague and blurry fashion, that art is beautiful and elusive and all that, but don’t we need to give this vauge comprehension some sort of a form or shape?” – This is where I disagree with you slightly. Why must we give it form or shape? I personally believe that shape of comprehension is what is killing the beauty. Feel free to think otherwise, but I’m going to continue to be stubborn in my beliefs and resistance to theory. I like my angel wings to be perfectly intact.

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