Saturday, May 23, 2020

Art in a time of Disaster. David Jones and The Anathemata.

Hotel Quarantine in WA, followed by a week of being stranded there, was an unpleasant lesson in how helpless the individual really is when the men and women in suits are making up the rules and indifferent to the welfare of the individuals in their care.  

So confronted by the suits and their ability to enforce rules which aren't laws, what price poetry or any other art? Forget protest, the suits are deaf. Common sense and logic are invalids on life support, so your protest poem or song is a sparrow's fart in a thunder storm. 

I've been rereading David Jones, and his work offers one possible answer. In his excellent study, 'The Song of Deeds' (p.19) Neil Corcoran writes of Jones:

'The Anathemata' manifests a pessimism informed and transformed by a resilient refusal to capitulate.

But this resilient pessimism is the result of his sense that if man ‘at best can suffer the circumstances of his nativity and tradition’, he nevertheless ‘can, must and does’ make a song about it.

 It is this joy of making a song about it, a song of deeds, that most often restrains David Jones’ work from Elegy and lament. Such joy is not vague, ‘romantic’ subjectivism but a belief that the artist partakes through his ‘making’ in that gratuitous creation that sustains the world in being.  

or to put it another way, to make something beautiful in a time of breaking is a very human act of defiance. 

The key term is making. The 'Modernist' and 'Post-modernist' claim that since the world is broken, art should be too, might have seemed a natural response to some in the traumatic aftermath of the first world war. But the jellyfish school of poetry, that simply goes with the tide, pretending coherence is unavailable or undesirable, is as out of date as Pope's certainties and the inevitability of his ordered heroic couplets. 


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