And to ally with these words, located through an interview with Cornelius Castoriadis by Chris Marker in 1989, I quote Séamas Heaney on the Heckler of our times and her expectation of art:
‘In our time’, the heckler protests, echoing something he has read somewhere, ‘the destiny of man presents itself in political terms’. And his understanding, and in the understanding of most people who protest against the ascription to poetry of any metaphysical force, those terms are going to derive from the politics of subversion, of redressal, of affirming that which is denied voice. Our heckler, in other words, will want poetry to be more than an imagined response to conditions in the world; he or she will urgently want to know why it should not be an applied art, harnessed to movements which attempt to alleviate those conditions by direct action.
Is Heaney here placing the responsibility of action elsewhere than upon the poet? Or is the poets action through her ‘imagined response’ and the citizens action must be then through their own idiomatic performance of democracy? Heaney stresses a value, though does not explicitly reveal it, associated with this ‘imagined response’, and drawing upon Wallace Stevens he asserts the poet to be a potent figure because it is she who creates again and again “the world to which we turn incessantly and without knowing it”. It is she who “gives life to the supreme fictions without which we are unable to conceive” of that world. Heaney goes on to say:
…if our given experience is a labyrinth, its impassibility can still be countered by the poet’s imagining some equivalent of the labyrinth and presenting himself and us with a vivid experience of it.
The poets equivalent of the labyrinth may not, indeed, does not, intervene in the actual world, says Heaney, but it does something radical which connects to thought:
by offering consciousness a chance to recognize its predicaments, foreknow its capacities and rehearse its comebacks in all kinds of venturesome ways, it does constitute a beneficent event.
In other words, the poets equivalent of the labyrinth does some good, has some generosity in it.
To my mind, working out of a telecommunications research centre as I am, the engineers model corresponds with the poets ‘equivalent of the labyrinth’ which Heaney describes. And there is the possibility of constituting a beneficent event through this model. Indeed, that is what my colleagues strive for, as I see it. But, there are forces at odds with this beneficence… and very often they come from within as well as from without. What forces are these? Occupational Difference? Political Economy (the contradiction in terms)? The disintegration of democracy? Neo-Liberalism? Why not. All of these. And, of course, the self. The crisis of the individual.
(Séamas Heaney is quoted from ‘The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures’, 1995, Faber and Faber, London.)