So said Jerome Sala at the Best American Poetry blog last month.
At first blush, most sane people would agree. After all, how to press into words or paint or ones and zeros or any other medium the infinite complexity of, say, global capital (my own favorite quest), or even just the blogosphere, or the sixty-something-million registered cars in the U.S., or the particles emitted by those cars, or the microscopic creatures killed by those particles, or the less-than-microscopic creatures affected by those microscopic deaths, or, or, or... Just ask Juliana Spahr—it's a list that does nothing but expand.
Still, while Sala goes to Hegel, I go to Adorno, my favorite roadmap for my favorite quest. And so I find myself worrying somewhat less about the intent to express reality—holding no illusions about my brain's ability to contain such sublime totalities in model form—than about the inevitability of refraction and reflection.
This to say: my poems do not express reality because I will them to do so; reality, refracted, sets their forms. And if my poems are any good, and I leave that to others to determine, it is because they point up the distance between what my brain expresses and what reality forms.
Quoting my dissertation prospectus, quoting our man Adorno thrice:
“[Aesthetic form] is the nonviolent synthesis of the diffuse that nevertheless preserves it as what it is in its divergences and contradictions, and for this reason form is actually an unfolding of truth.”
“History in artworks is not something made, and history alone frees the work from being merely something posited or manufactured: Truth content is not external to history but rather its crystallization in the works.”
This is to say, aesthetic form is history—the contradictions of social life at a given moment in history, visible in the form of an artwork as “ununifiable, nonidentical elements that grind away at each other.”
Grinding, cousin. Just thought I'd remind y'all.