Saturday, 22 August 2009

No, but they're there all right

( the question, Do you believe in ghosts?)

"Surprised at seeing a horseshoe above the door of [Niels] Bohr's country house, a visiting scientist said he didn't believe that horseshoes kept evil spirits out of the house, to which Bohr answered: 'Neither do I; I have it there because I was told that it works just as well if one doesn't believe in it.'" [Slavo Zizek, 'Berlusconi in Tehran',
London Review of Books, 31 (14) 2009]

So perhaps with transcendence in poetry? Of course there isn't another order of reality behind this one, one of which we're occasionally vouchsafed a glimpse through art or liminal experience, a surreality beyond reality. But because poetry states nothing and makes no claims (its sentences are only playing at being statements, like statements being quoted at us) it can have its cake and eat it: it avoids condemnation for superstitious belief but enjoys the benefit of experiencing superstition as reality. It's saying nothing that's untrue but it isn't in the business of saying at all; it claims no truth so can't be lying; but it nevertheless puts into our consciousness awareness of the very thing it's escaping the accusation of superstitiously believing.

So in its woods there spirits, in its deserted towns a brooding presence, over its vast waters a universal Something. And for us they're there all right, but who could ever accuse us, we who explain so dispassionately in our essays 'How Yeats creates the effect of...'?

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