The thought of a thought.
The Vigil of Roderick Usher represents, and the subtitle ("paraphrase") seems to strengthen this impression, Barbian variations on a theme from Edgar Allan Poe, which we could eventually call poetic creation. Sketched in a few flashing lines that distill a large amount of disconcerting ideas, Barbu's meditation places itself "at the limit of exact investigation," in an attempt to capture, in the stony stillness of words, the moment when the orbit of poetry closes on the "asymptote" of scientific thinking. In other words, it defines what Paul Valery (1919: 11) calls "the central attitude from which the approaches of knowledge and the operations of art are equally possible."
It is not at all surprising that the imaginary "drama of ideas," by which Ion Barbu articulates his vision, borrows from the Poesque tale, whose hero is Roderick Usher, the main "stage," a significant part of its "characters" and "actions," but also some of its deeper motivations. The apologue, which through its unusual qualities, could stir the interest of a spirit that "succumbed to the charms of Urania," as the Romanian poet portrays himself, counts among those very few works that transcend the limits of fiction and "get close to [...] the procedures and the object of science." (Barbu 1984n: 184)
The poem of the universe
Like his American model, Ion Barbu conceives of poiesis as a particular aspect of a more comprising reality that exceeds the domain of literature. "Poetry, like any other physical phenomenon participates in the mystery of life" (Barbu 1984i: 144). The liminal point of this assertion could be the misterium cosmogonicum that is also the focus of Poe's speculations in Eureka: "[T]he Universe ... is the most sublime of poems" (Poe 1848: 130), and God, the "Supreme Artist." The sole goal that legitimizes one's writing is the poet's attempt to reflect, through/ in verse, the unbounded harmony of the Cosmos. In Poe's vision, "the poem is not the revelation of a truth ... but of the singular and harmonic Truth, for which evidence is immediate and complete." (Richard 1978: 474; emphasis added) It derives from the idiosyncratic manner in which the artist of genius, imbued as he is with divine "grace", arrives at a proper understanding of the world. The need to preserve the individuality of impression (Poe 1848: 9), so that the whole would not be disturbed, inevitably leads him to an aesthetical mode of dealing with the cosmological problem, or, as he himself declares, a "mental whirling on the heel" (Poe 1848: 8).
Eureka gives shape to Poe's wish to construct a "poem of the universe," a complete work capable to provide a kind of Mallarmean "Orphic explanation of the Earth" (1956a: 15). Consequently, his reflection on "the material and spiritual Universe" (Poe 1848: 7) closely relates to his aesthetic theory, in all its major aspects. This means that we must understand the space that his prose poem delineates, as an analogon of the world. In the introduction, the American poet even insists that his text be read as a "poem" and not as a study, judged only for its scientific content, because the "truth" about the origin and the destiny of the universe is clarified in Eureka, primarily, yet not exclusively, through its aesthetic reality:
To the few who love me and whom I love--to those who feel rather than to those who think--to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities--I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth; constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone:--let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a Poem."
What I here propound is true:--therefore it cannot die:--or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it dies, it will rise again to the Life Everlasting.
Nevertheless it is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead. (Poe 1848: 5)
As readers, we are invited to discover the original intuition, the essential "truth," that brings together the sundry elements that make it up. In his own words: "In the Original Unity of the First Thing lies the Secondary Cause of All Things, with the Germ of their Inevitable Annihilation" (Poe 1848: 8; italics in the original). The rigorous theoretical construction in Eureka correlates with this original presupposition, and the Poesque universe fully subjects to this primary law. To Poe, "Oneness" (Poe 1848: 30) is the basic postulate of his metaphysics. The creative process, in time and in space, inevitably derives from it, because, as he himself states, creation contains in itself the reason of its own annihilation: "The willing into being the primordial particle, has completed the act, or more properly the conception, of Creation. We now proceed to the ultimate purpose for which we are to suppose the Particle created that is to say, the ultimate purpose so far as our considerations yet enable us to see it the constitution of the Universe from it, the Particle." (Poe 1848: 30-31)
At the origin of all things, Poe places the "extreme simplicity," or the absolute unity through the complete absence of any relations of the original particle, which is God Himself. The visible heterogeneity of the universe is the exact consequence of this particle being divided by the force of irradiation, itself an expression of the divine volition that endures in time. In this way, Divinity promotes its own pleasure, continuously multiplying and diversifying the nature of its own existence; through unextend combinations of elements (Poe 1848: 142). The particles (atoms) thus resulting are but fractions spread, in space and in time, of the One, and have the tendency to return to the original unity, due to the force of attraction, common to all beings and material objects, which are kept separate only by the contrary balancing action of repulsion. Therefore, the universe represents the extended "existence" of God who, "now feels his life through an infinity of imperfect pleasures--the partial and pain-interchanged pleasures of those inconceivably numerous things which you designate as his creatures, but which are really but infinite individualizations of Himself" (Poe 1848: 142). The material universe exists only as a manifestation of attraction/gravitation and repulsion/irradiation, in a dynamic equilibrium. However, when God withdraws his creative will, due to which the universe continuously expands, then, everything returns to the original form of the unique particle: Matter (which is only attraction and repulsion) disappears, and existence reduce itself to "pure mind" (Spirit), once more. This moment, placed in a remote, yet predictable future, also includes the integration of the human spirit with God and constitutes "the most sublime truth," because it signifies the beginning of a new cycle of creation, a new impulse of the "Divine Heart." Thus, Poe unveils the "geometrical essence" of the cosmos, the "absolute Unity as the source of All Things." (Poe 1848: 49)
However, such a vision of the world, Poe notes in "The Mesmeric Revelation," remains inaccessible to ordinary man. His senses, adapted to the conditions of "rudimentary" organic life, and consequently subjected to the laws of physics, act like "cages" that limit perception:
Yes; organs are contrivances by which the individual is brought into sensible relation with particular classes and forms of matter, to the exclusion of other classes and forms. The organs of man are adapted to his rudimental condition, and to that only; his ultimate condition, being unorganized, is of unlimited comprehension in all points but one--the nature of the volition of God--that is to say, the motion of the unparticled matter. You may have a distinct idea of the ultimate body by conceiving it to be entire brain. This it is not, but a conception of this nature will bring you near a comprehension of what it is. A luminous body imparts vibration to the luminiferous ether. The vibrations generate similar ones within the retina; these again communicate similar ones to the optic nerve. The nerve conveys similar ones to the brain; the brain, also, similar ones to the unparticled matter which permeates it. The motion of this latter is thought, of which perception is the first undulation. This is the mode by which the mind of the rudimental life communicates with the external world; and this external world is, to the rudimental life, limited, through the idiosyncrasy of its organs. But in the ultimate, unorganized life, the external world reaches the whole body, (which is of a substance having affinity to brain, as I have said,) with no other intervention than that of an infinitely rarer ether than even the luminiferous; and to this ether-in unison with it--the whole body vibrates, setting in motion the unparticled matter which permeates it. It is to the absence of idiosyncratic organs, therefore, that we must attribute the nearly unlimited perception of the ultimate life. To rudimental beings, organs are the cages necessary to confine them until fledged. (Poe 1982f: 93-94)
Only the artist of genius possesses that particular sensitivity that allows him to reach a perfect understanding of the divine order and of the relation between Poetry and the Universe. Moreover, he is the only one capable of bringing here, on Earth, the idea of Beauty, neither pure nor perfect, yet adapted to man's limited capacities of comprehension, in the form of the work of art.
Closer in time to the age in which Ion Barbu lived, Henri Bergson, in the Creative Evolution (1907), identifies "the great mystery of life" (1944: 142)--i.e. continuously renewed creation, with the very essence of beauty, a statement which, to the Romanian poet, seemed to continue a Poesque thought. The author of Joc secund / Second game knows Bergson's work, and openly assumes the speculations of the French philosopher on art:
In Bergsonian psychology, our inner reality is envisaged as a whirl that grows together with duration, and which preserves, although in an atrophied form, the germs of its conditioning, the virtualities of its vacillating becoming. The work of art means placing oneself within these life-impulses and prolonging them in an imaginary existence. (Barbu 1976: 28; emphasis added)
The above formulation seems to synthetize some observations on the relationships between poetic creation and life, which Bergson makes, in his sole attempt to construct an aesthetic conception, the essay Le rire / Laughter (1900):
We are strangely mistaken as to the part played by poetic imagination, if we think it pieces together its heroes out of fragments filched from right and left, as though it were patching together a harlequin's motley. Nothing living would result from that. Life cannot be recomposed; it can only be looked at and reproduced. Poetic imagination is but a fuller view of reality. If the characters created by a poet give us the impression of life, it is only because they are the poet himself,--multiplication or division of the poet,--the poet plumbing the depths of his own nature in so powerful an effort of inner observation that he lays hold of the potential in the real, and takes up what nature has left as a mere outline or sketch in his soul in order to make of it a finished work of art. (1911: 167-168; emphasis added)
We may regain the original meaning of these remarks if we accept the epistemological premises which Henri Bergson had voiced earlier, in the Time and free will. An essay on the immediate data of consciousness (1889). In our daily experience, he comments, our socially-conditioned perception is deeply rooted in the requirements of practical action, which means that our senses empty matter of its concrete qualities, selects from what the senses give to it, only what is useful, classifiable, and can be included in a conceptual system. In other words, "We instinctively tend to solidify our impressions in order to express them in language" (Bergson 1960: 130). This way, the "the individuality of things or of beings escapes" of things, escapes us, substituted by a multiplicity of impersonal, general details (Bergson 1911: 152). By contrast, the French philosopher continues, the perception of the artist is active--and through this, he recuperates the true reality, which is ceaseless flow, continuous creation of the new. Artistic perception increases precision, it clarifies and intensifies the data of ordinary observation by means of an energetic process of projection which involves the play of mind and memory:
What is the object of art? Could reality come into direct contact with sense and consciousness, could we enter into immediate communion with things and with ourselves, probably art would be useless, or rather we should all be artists, for then our soul would continually vibrate in perfect accord with nature. Our eyes, aided by memory, would carve out in space and fix in time the most inimitable of pictures. Hewn in the living marble of the human form, fragments of statues, beautiful as the relics of antique statuary, would strike the passing glance. Deep in our souls we should hear the strains of our inner life's unbroken melody,--a music that is ofttimes gay, but more frequently plaintive and always original. All this is around and within us, and yet no whit of it do we distinctly perceive. Between nature and ourselves, nay, between ourselves and our own consciousness a veil is interposed: a veil that is dense and opaque for the common herd,--thin, almost transparent, for the artist and the poet. (Bergson 1911: 151-152; emphasis added)
The Romanian poet, himself aspiring to a more direct vision of reality, possibly found in Bergson's formulations a confirmation of his own intuitions. Ion Barbu, who understands poetry as "a certain symbolism for the representation of possible forms of existence" could not but adhere to Bergson's position, who claims that the function of art is to recover, through reflection and symbolization, that "irresistible thrust" (Bergson 1960: 169), characteristic of life, by virtue of which this is continuous and indivisible movement and change, and to give it a form, and consequently some order, in which the spirit inscribes "its own freedom" (Bergson 1929: 332). The writer's creative intention harmonizes the images, the ideas, the symbols and the meanings of the work in a unitary whole, and endows them with a specific dynamism.
Poetry as a hoped-for gate
The word has a peculiarity which prevents it from ever fixing the reality whose sign it is: "This tendency of the sign to transfer itself from one object to another is characteristic of human language" (Bergson 1944: 174; emphasis added), a vision that Ion Barbu had learned of in the Poesque theory of effect as presented in "The Philosophy of Composition" (1846). That is why, in order to appropriate the "inspiration" of the American author--which, for Bergson, is the very essence of aesthetic judgment, he must adopt the latter's perception (Bergson 1944: 194). This is precisely what Ion Barbu does in "The Vigil of Roderick Usher," by imaginatively placing himself in the "geometrical locus" of Poe's thinking.
Modulus of a possible evening, that parenthetic zenith--a wanderer in wintertime--, and the "non-patterned" sun had formed the valley where the Usher mansion lay.
The necessary ravens, the syllabic lake, the alveolar daydreaming stone-syllables of the illustrious Crib infinitely stretched, or naturally drove away the tables of unrepeated Physics.
And I could perceive the shadowy filaments, the figure of the docile rays, and the whole veiled heart of the place: the unfathomable clock-face of modified, derived times, unawares running through belfry-bells, through trees, and mists.
Under the unending rebellion of the walls, consolidation in cube, dice of automorphous light, the Vigil grew through the beams. (Barbu 1984r: 212)
"The valley of the Usher domain," evoked in a brief sketch at the beginning of Barbu's paraphrase circumscribes an imaginary space, which is but a possible configuration ("had formed") of that creative force--the One aching for the condition of the Multiple in Eureka, or better, the Bergsonian elan vital, through which, and into which, everything exists. It represents the Absolute ("Modulus") that can be recuperated through a sort of platonic reminiscence, from the claroboscuro of memory ("a possible evening"). It is, at the same time, the apex of knowledge ("Zenith")--an image that reminds us of the famous metaphor of the sun in Plato's Republic (Book V)--, inaccessible to ordinary knowledge ("parenthetical") because social conventions and prejudices that stand between it and us. This ultimate reality is movement, and continuous creation of the new is its very substance; it endlessly freezes itself, i.e. materializes, in a variety of forms, different from it, yet essentially related to it ("wandering in winter times"). Consequently, it is impossible to fix conceptually ("non-patterned sun"). We could reach this profound reality through a sort of "eidetic reduction" only, i.e. within the unlimited horizon of one's conscience.
The creatures and objects that necessarily occupy the coherent and complex meso-cosmos of Poe's tale, of which Barbu names only a few--"the eagles," "the syllabic tarn," "the alveolar daydreaming stone-syllables of the illustrious Crib"--are living, active presences, because, in their turn, they modify ("drove away") continuously, naturally ("infusedly"), or further develop ("infinitely stretch[ed]") the data of an original creative process ("unrepeated Physics"). Keys of the spirit ascending to its celestial potential ("the eagles"), a bridge between the formal and the informal ("the tarn"), or a depository of knowledge and wisdom ("the Usher mansion"), generating associations with the human spirit and body, an idea exemplified in Poe's tale by the "Haunted Palace" poem--they all bind the visible with the invisible. Consequently, they are signa ("syllables," "alphabet") of a higher spiritual reality, mirrors that cryptically unveil the mechanisms of the universe and, by analogy, of the literary work.
This idea is central to Edgar Poe's poetics. Inspired by Wilhelm Schlegel's Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature (1809), in the review to deLa Motte Fouque's romance Undine: A Miniature Romance (1984: 256), he severely censures what he calls "the evil genius of mere matter-of-fact" (mimesis) and opposes to it "the mystic or the undercurrent of meaning" (symbolism). "The Usher Valley," Ion Barbu seems to suggest, continuing the Romantic writer's line of thought, is a realm of spiritual illumination, i.e. an epiphany.
The barely visible fracture of the edifice's walls ("the alveolar daydreaming stone-syllables of the illustrious Crib"), suggesting the delicate balance of the (aesthetic ?) construction, through which the Romanian author recovers some of the characteristic aspects of Poe's landscape in "The Fall of the House of Usher," is directed rather at the latter's commentary from the Night and Morning review (1841), on the nature of the plot in the tale, "plot which, properly defined, is that in which no part can be displaced without ruin to the whole. It may be described as a building so dependently constructed, that to change the position of a single brick is to overthrow the entire fabric" (Poe 1982e: 148; emphasis added). In the American author's view, a perfect plot is undesirable, even in those genres based on the imitation of life such as the novel, or drama. The intrigue, Poe goes on, is "that infinite perfection which the true artist bears in mind--that unattainable goal to which his eyes are always directed, but of the possibility of attaining which he still endeavors, if wise, to cheat himself into belief" (Poe 1982e: 148). Poe caries the argument even further and, in a note published in the Democratic Review, in November 1844, he states that theologia naturalis had not succeeded in expressing fully this complete reciprocity of the divine laws:
All the Bridgewater treatises have failed in noticing the great idiosyncrasy in the Divine system of adaptation: that idiosyncrasy which stamps the adaptation as Divine, in distinction from that which is the work of merely human constructiveness. I speak of the complete mutuality of adaptation. For example: in human constructions, a particular cause has a particular effect a particular purpose brings about a particular object; but we see no reciprocity. The effect does not re-act upon the cause the object does not change relations with the purpose. In Divine constructions, the object is either object or purpose, as we choose to regard it, while the purpose is either purpose or object; so that we can never (abstractedly, without concretion without reference to facts of the moment) decide which is which. For secondary example: In polar climates, the human frame, to maintain its due caloric, requires, for combustion in the stomach, the most highly ammoniac food, such as train oil. Again: In polar climates, the sole food afforded man is the oil of abundant seals and whales. Now, whether is oil at hand because imperatively demanded? or whether is it the only thing demanded because the only thing to be obtained? It is impossible to say. There is an absolute reciprocity of adaptation, for which we seek in vain among the works of man. (Poe 1984c: 1315-1316)
The idea was then retaken without any major changes in Eureka (1848), where Poe declares that perfection is impossible in "human constructions," this, in his view, being an attribute reserved only to divine creations:
The pleasure which we derive from any exertion of human ingenuity, is in the direct ratio of the approach to this species of reciprocity between cause and effect. In the construction of plot, for example, in fictitious literature, we should aim at so arranging the points, or incidents, that we cannot distinctly see, in respect to any one of them, whether that one depends from any one other, or upholds it. In this sense, of course, perfection of plot is unattainable in fact, because Man is the constructor. The plots of God are perfect. The Universe is a Plot of God. (Poe 1848: 120; emphasis added)
Poe's concept of the plot develops to a certain extent, and in a personal manner, Schlegel's concept of the "organic form" (1965: 340), born out of the specific nature of the poetical material, which grows from the inside, together with the principle that generates it. The form is, in other words, the "body" by means of which the "spirit of poetry," nourishing on itself, migrates. Malleability, the capacity of generating unity out of multitude of heterogeneous elements, characterizes it. The form intuited by the author as a constitutive principle, in accordance to which the individual work consummates itself, is not an abstract geometrical framework, but a concrete and diverse "world." Following, to a certain extent, Edgar Poe--in Eureka, the American writer speaks of "the design of variety out of unity diversity out of sameness heterogeneity out of homogeneity complexity out of simplicity in a word, the utmost possible multiplicity of relation out of the emphatically irrelative One" (Poe 1984: 32)--the author of "Joc secund" / Second Game understands the literary work not as something that closes upon itself, but as something that continuously opens, a lieu de passage, where new realities, in continuous metamorphosis, install themselves and find their configurations. The work, like the process, in which it materializes, is not the final product. Rather, it is a dynamic reality, with many indeterminations, that demands to be completed, concretized in the act of reading. Its immobility is only specious. (Focillon 1981: 10)
Through the (symbolical) transparency of these elements, Ion Barbu identifies ("deciphers") a generating nexus ("the filament of the shadows," "the figure of the docile rays," "the hidden heart" (it could correspond to the "Divine Heart" in Edgar Poe's Eureka), that is, the essence, which only the initiate can perceive. Following Bergson, we shall understand them as "the totality of the relations set up between these materials in order to constitute a systematic knowledge" (Bergson 1944: 164). By means of these relationships, intelligence--"which is only a motionless and fragmentary view of life, and which naturally takes its stand outside of time" (Bergson 1944: 58)--crystalizes in definite patterns (trees, belfries, etc.), that movement from the depths of Being which belongs to an original time ("the unfathomable clock-face"). On the other hand, with Edgar Poe, the same "divine plot"--both "true" and "beautiful," harmonizing and unifying the structural elements of the cosmos, which, in this way, "advance mathematically to their fulfillment" (Poe 1848: 118), governed by "the complete mutuality of adaptation" (Poe 1848: 119)--, allows us to identify the "geometrical order" of the universe:
... in human constructions, a particular cause has a particular effect; a particular intention brings to pass a particular object; but this is all; we see no reciprocity. The effect does not react upon the cause; the intention does not change relations with the object. In Divine constructions, the object is either design or object as we choose to regard it--and we may take at any time a cause for an effect, or the converse--so that we can never absolutely decide which is which. (Poe 1848: 119)
In addition, since Poe acknowledges that the divine intrigue is essentially a poetical act, "The Universe is the plot of God" (Poe 1848: 120). Subject to the same law of "mutual adaptation," the human poetic act turns into a testimony of truth, and ultimately, "Poetry and Truth are one." (Poe 1848: 130)
It was from the mutual dependence of principles that Edgar Poe deduced the existence of a Divine Author, in Eureka. The absolute relations of things, deriving from the essential non-relationality of the original indivisible particle, a posteriori confirm the unicity of divine will. It created the unified cosmos in space, where every atom of matter is interdependent of others --"the tendency each to each" (Poe 1848: 45), and of the Whole, as well as in time, since the act of thought which the original creative consciousness diffuses itself, necessitates from the beginning the reversed action of attraction, which will eventually solve multiplicity into Unity.
The human artist nourishes himself on the energy of this creative impulse--he is not only a reflection, but also a fragment of the divine being. The material and spiritual God--now exists solely in the diffused Matter and Spirit of The Universe (Poe 1848: 141)--, who secretly imagines, through specific operations ("modified, derived times"), and gives the object created and already existing in the universe a new temporality ("unfathomable"), thus revealing their "planetary nature" (Barbu 1984m: 176). In other words, they become embodiments of some fundamental, eternal, existential principles. The literary text creates a new spatial and temporal unity that transcends experiential data, a new world that rivals the world of immediate experience.
Despite the instability of the imaginative projection ("the unending rebellion of the walls"), "the Vigil," intuition, the "sympathetic" manner of knowing the world from the inside, which Bergson defines as "the light that plays around the zone of possible actions or potential activity which surrounds the action really performed by the living being" (Bergson 1944: 159) accumulates steadily ("grew through the beams"). Metamorphosing continuously, yet remaining essentially identical to itself ("dice of automorphous light")--, it approaches the geometrical perfection of platonic polyhedra ("consolidation in cube"), i.e., supreme knowledge. It could also be read as a "dynamic scheme" or as the form of the poetical work that continuously changing nexus that guarantees the balance of the imaginary construction.
Consubstantial ("attached, connected to") with this imaginary space is a true priest ("much taller because of the wild deflections of his priestly, silken hair") of poetry ("undividedly knew the long-searched for Being of Poetry")--Roderick Usher. The world of Poe's tale is one in which the objects that inhabit it are endowed with some metaphysical property--"sentience" (sensibility, a primary form of conscience)--which invites Roderick Usher's attention and reverence:
I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad led us into a train of thought wherein there became manifest an opinion of Usher's which I mention not so much on account of its novelty, (for other men have thought thus,) as on account of the pertinacity with which he maintained it. This opinion, in its general form, was that of the sentience of all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy, the idea had assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under certain conditions, upon the kingdom of inorganization. I lack words to express the full extent, or the earnest abandon of his persuasion. The belief, however, was connected (as I have previously hinted) with the gray stones of the home of his forefathers. The conditions of the sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these stones--in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi which overspread them, and of the decayed trees which stood around--above all, in the long undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in its reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. Its evidence--the evidence of the sentience--was to be seen, he said, (and I here started as he spoke,) in the gradual yet certain condensation of an atmosphere of their own about the waters and the walls. The result was discoverable, he added, in that silent, yet importunate and terrible influence which for centuries had molded the destinies of his family, and which made him what I now saw him--what he was. Such opinions need no comment, and I will make none. (Poe 1982e: 239)
"Sentience" has a metaphysical foundation in man's identity with divinity, here of the protagonist with the world he inhabits, proclaimed by Poe in Eureka (1848: 143). Endowed with an unusual clarity of perception (in Poe's tale, Usher "paints ideas," i.e. miraculously gives them a pure aesthetic status), he is undoubtedly the poet of genius in the Romantic tradition.
This is not, however, the Poesque idea of genius--whom he sees as a being in which Intellect, Taste and Perception are balanced:
Let a man succeed ever so evidently--ever so demonstrably--in many different displays of genius, the envy of criticism will agree with the popular voice in denying him more than talent in any. Thus a poet who has achieved a great (by which I mean an effective) poem, should be cautious not to distinguish himself in any other walk of Letters. In especial--let him make no effort in Science--unless anonymously, or with the view of waiting patiently the judgment of posterity. Because universal or even versatile geniuses have rarely or never been known, therefore, thinks the world, none such can ever be. A "therefore" of this kind is, with the world, conclusive. But what is the fact, as taught us by analysis of mental power? Simply, that highest genius--that the genius which all men instantaneously acknowledge as such--which acts upon individuals, as well as upon the mass, by a species of magnetism incomprehensible but irresistible and never resisted--that this genius which demonstrates itself in the simplest gesture--or even by the absence of all--this genius which speaks without a voice and flashes from the unopened eye.--is but the result of generally large mental power existing in a state of absolute proportion--so that no one faculty has undue predominance. (Poe 1982a: 1301; emphasis added)
This unusual quality of understanding gives the Poet celestial features. To Edgar Poe, the individual mind is part of the mind of the Demiurge, embodied in matter. However, since the image of the Creator, unblemished by matter, already exists in man's mind, like a "memory," it can be recovered "by faint indeterminate glimpses" (Poe 1848: 143), in dream, or in mesmeric trance. Through this experience, the human mind frees itself from the organic "cage" of senses and knows itself as divine mind (Poe 1982f: 92-93). Gradually, as the divine plan materializes in time, the conscience of one's mortal identity becomes weaker and weaker, and the conscience of Man's identity with his Creator ever stronger. Ultimately, the individual loses himself in the collective conscience of the universe, and the latter, in turn, in the divine one. As the American poet styles it in Eureka (1848: 143): "In the meantime bear in mind that all is Life--Life--Life within Life--the less within the greater, and all within the Spirit Divine."
Edgar Poe locates the divine principle in man, in his aesthetic sense, and the poet, the only one capable of perceiving the analogies between the natural order and the ideal moral order, thus becomes a mediator between divinity and man. His mediation is necessary because Man, "stalked a God in his own fancy" (Poe 1982d: 445), has gradually alienated himself from the order and beauty of nature by excessively cultivating practical reasoning (sciences), while neglecting, at the same time, the intuitions of the poetical faculty. In Poe's vision, spiritual ruin is the price of civilization. (Poe 1982d: 445)
Poetry--which the Romanian author understands as a method of cognition that denies the personality of the author ("free of the human figure")--is the only possibility ("hoped for gate") of passing the threshold that separates the visible world form the invisible one ("up to the margins of the celebrated, incinerated shadows"), and of knowing the Absolute in its purest aspect, namely as Creator of the universe, as a work of art. Only it can offer us a temporary experience of the divine, under the imperfect form of aesthetic pleasure. For Poe, human existence is in itself painful, and divine pleasure, which could soften, though transitory, this pain, cannot come but from the Poet, who thus proves his sacred title, adapting the primary materials of art to man's limited capacities of knowledge. His obligation, says Poe, in the "Poetic Principle" (Poe 1982h: 92), is to make us feel this beauty.
Through an "infidel" reading (Richard 1978: 474) of a well-known passage from "The Philosophy of Composition," the champions of "pure poetry" (Mallarme 1897:77; Valery 2009:86) identified in the American poet a forerunner, and saw in him one of the earliest promoters of the idea of impersonality in art. The Romanian poet does not think otherwise. "The great achievements," he says in a statement that clearly echoes Poe, "always assume the appearance of a confused protestation against the current personality of the creator" (Barbu 1976: 28). Bergson, to whom he owes so much, is also a partisan of the idea: "the object of art is to put to sleep the active or rather resistant powers of our personality." (Bergson 1960: 14)
The aesthetic experience is a type of nonrational knowledge (perception), with its own objective content, or as Max Scheler calls it, "ecstatic" (1981: 294). It is a mode of our relating to the world that precedes the appearance of self-consciousness. It transposes us into a zone of existence where, we, as readers, participate in the advent of a world that preserves something from the possibilities of becoming characteristic of life, and in which the knowing subject and the object of knowledge merge:
O! There, self-centered and self-creating heavens were depleting themselves through distinctive flashes. The profound, rejected season of this cogital realm was growing into a fruit, wrapped in many skins.
Propagated chalice, concentrically structured insomnia of Principles, simultaneous clothing of glorious, definite geometries. (Barbu 1984r: 213)
The "self-centered, self-creating" sky and the "profound, rejected season of this cogital realm" are metaphors of a primary reality, of that "perfected, ultimate, immortal life," in which, according to the Poesque vision from "The Mesmeric Revelation" (1982f: 93), Man, passing through the metamorphosis of the "rudimentary body," will regain the lost unity of things. In the traditional symbolism, of which Barbu is not alien, the fruit that opens itself represents the origo and is a reply to the Pascalian figure of the universe formed of concentric spheres, image that Poe himself uses in Eureka (1848: 28). It is, at the same time, an approximation of the specular image of the (Divine) Spirit that objectivizes in matter. The result is a self-sufficient world, purely intellectual ("cogital"), that grows, "invents" itself continuously through perpetual genesis ("was growing into a fruit, wrapped in many skins"). Barbu seems to preserve the idea of creation as volition of a transcendental power, eventually divine, from the Poesque cosmogony sketched in Eureka, symbolized by the Eucharistic element, correlated with the existence of a liminal point, from where, through diffusion ("propagation"), through the continuous opposition of attraction and repulsion, the visible and the spiritual universe spreads "concentrically," in accordance with the plan ("clear geometries") of the Absolute Spirit. Edgar Poe often speaks in Eureka about "a purely geometrical basis" on which the universe was built (1848: 33, 120), about "the geometrical simplicity" of the ultimate principles (1848: 46, 47), or about the "indisputable geometrical properties" of the laws of irradiation. (1848: 49)
To all these layers of meaning, we should add those associated with the Grail--the search of the Holy Grail represents an important moment of the Arthurian cycle, and the story of "Mad Trist," from Edgar Poe's apologue, relates to this tradition, which combines the symbolism of the quest with that of the King-Fisher, the guardian of the precious chalice. Like the King-Fisher, Roderick Usher suffers from a mysterious disease, and everything around him dies together with him. In Poe's tale, the allegorical poem "The Haunted Palace" seems to be the equivalent of the "lost book" associated with the motif of the Grail; it too evokes the destruction of any form of cohesion, from the alteration of one's memory and together with it of all forms of spiritual life, to the decline in nature, i.e. symbolic death. The poetical space is ultimately a topological space of being.
Knowledge was here indwelling, canonic movement into Spirit, authentication of beloved thoughts through blind and simple paths, like the lances of a triangle. (Barbu 1984r: 213)
These lines closely follow the data of the Poesque theory of knowledge as sketched in "The Power of Words," the apologue--in which the American poet almost reaches the "Orphic" comprehension of the universe--"I spoke it [this wild star] into birth" (Poe 1982g: 443)--, and in "Mesmeric Revelation," respectively, from where the Romanian writer perhaps borrows the term:
At death, or metamorphosis, these creatures, enj'oying the ultimate life--immortality--and cognizant of all secrets but the one, act all things and pass every where by mere volition:--indwelling, not the stars, which to us seem the sole palpabilities, and for the accommodation of which we blindly deem space created--but that space itself-that infinity of which the truly substantive vastness swallows up the star-shadows--blotting them out as non-entities from the perception of the angels. (Poe1982f: 94)
Once Man has passed the metamorphosis of death and enjoys eternal life, he becomes knowing-all, yet this knowledge is not instantaneous revelation--"Not even here sin Aidenn] is knowledge thing of intuition"--, but progressive accumulation ("canonic movement into Spirit"), because, as Agathos reveals to Oinos, "not in knowledge is happiness, but in the acquisition of knowledge" (Poe1982f: 440). In the "Vigil," Ion Barbu argues that poetical cognition, through its "closed" and "simple," i.e., direct, mechanisms, defines a third way, which is a dialectical union of intuition ("indwelling") and reflection ("authentication of beloved thoughts"). The Barbian commentary also seems to synthesize some reflections that Bergson makes in An introduction to metaphysics: "It follows from this that an absolute could only be given in an intuition [...] By intuition is meant the kind of intellectual sympathy by which one places oneself within an object in order to coincide with what is unique in it and consequently inexpressible." (Bergson 1910: 7; emphasis added)
Knowledge is spiritual awakening, the rising of thinking, through a series of transformations of consciousness, to the Unseen. This idea is suggested in the Barbian paraphrase by the evocation of the triangle, whose complex symbolism indicates the aspiration to a higher unity--the desire to escape from extension, i.e., the mundane, signified by the base of the triangle (cf. Cirlot 2001: 47), into non-extension, toward the origin, in the absolute sense, or the Poesque "primary particle." Thus, a completely new world reveals itself:
Enduring bodies! Insolvent in the veritable valley, where transductions compressed the prismatic alphabet, and the substitutes of the windows accelerated worked on the docile, vegetal rays--where the murdered fraction and the second expired in a concoction. (Barbu 1984r: 213)
In Book X of the Republic, Plato conditions the poetical mimesis on the hierarchical structure of reality. The ancient Greek philosopher presupposes three levels of reality. The first is the level of ideals or "true" archetypal forms, whose validity cannot be questioned. The second is the level of visible objects and phenomena, which are but pale, imperfect reflections of the ideal forms above, and which, by means of our sensorial perceptions, allow us an indirect knowledge of the absolute truth. The third is the level of images, which includes mimetic arts and literature, and have as model the sensible reality. Therefore, poiesis is but an imitation of imitation, a knowledge of the third degree of truth, in accordance with the allegory of the three beds (Plato 1997e: 1201). Literary imitation places itself under the essential nature of things, but true art should rise above the material world.
Although poiesis is unstable, says Plato through the voice of Socrates, we must acknowledge its seducing yet dangerous nature. Since the cognition of truth depends on the deceiving nature of our sensorial impressions of the world and the metaphorical powers of the language, Plato, while pointing out Homer's ignorance of some of the truths of which he speaks in his epos, renders ridicule to a whole tradition, which considers the works of the great poets as embodiments of veracity. The metaphorical language, specific of poetry, is ostentatiously ambiguous and consequently deceptive, while "knowledge of truth" demands clear and exact language. For this reason, Plato prefers the idiom "philosophy." Moreover, since it appeals to, and awakens our sensuality, poetry, especially dramatic poetry, destroys the harmony of the human soul, the balance between virtue and happiness. Plato honors the poets, but does not allow them to live in the city, whose leader is the philosopher, because they cannot rise to certain ideal standards, from which the moral purpose of art also derives (Plato 1997e: 1203-1212). This conception finds a distinct echo in Poe's moral aestheticism, according to which art is appreciated to the extent it wakes in man the idea of harmony and order, thus acting as corrective of vices (Poe 1984j: 510), and in Barbu's own poetics: "Lyricism resides," he argues, "in another function: in strengthening an eternal moral." (Barbu 1984h: 172)
Though looked upon with suspicion and censured, poiesis remains an essential part of the citizens' education. Plato notes that the process by which we come to know higher truths begins with the identification of the beauty of individual things--therefore, cognition practically has a sensorial component too, only we must strive to overcome this level. Not all people, given their
ignorance, can undergo this process and reach to the conscience of Truth; they will have to be persuaded that Truth has, for all this, a vital importance for them too. Fiction, the "noble lie," through its seductive power, is called upon to encourage people to wish and to value Truth, which they may never know otherwise. This way, poetry serves Truth, its success in this mission is measured by means of the terms of the vision it proposes to readers (cf Plato 1997e). Therefore, even if Plato seems suspicious of poetry's power to affect human psyche, on a number of occasions he emphasizes the fact that poiesis is essential to life. Gyges's ring, the allegory of the cavern, the myth of Er, all demonstrate the capacity of fiction to lead us to higher truths. Artistic invention offers us the peremptory proof of Truth. Moreover, it places in us the desire to do our best to find it, to order our life as a quest for Truth, Beauty, and Good.
The platonic doctrine of poiesis is subsequently completed by the theory of anamnesis, in "Meno" and the theory of "forms," in "Phaedrus"--, the idea that at birth we possess all the necessary knowledge and that our understanding depends on this Truth. The human soul, which once knew everything, now, prisoner of the body, has forgotten almost everything. The aim of reminiscence is to recuperate the lost knowledge, and, in order to achieve this, we must overcome our body limitations. (Plato 1997: 527)
Nor does Edgar Poe, for whom Platonism is a point of reference, think otherwise. In Eureka he writes: "We walk about, amid the destinies of our world existence, encompassed by dim but ever present Memories of a Destiny more vast--very distant in the bygone time, and infinitely awful" (1848: 140).
Similarly, the Romanian poet, in an article entitled "Poezia lene[\" /Idle poetry (1928), declares using a deliberately paradoxical statement, with clear platonic resonance:
I know fervor as the only life, the only health, the beyond-lighting quietness of the soul. The only novelty, a pre-existent and regained thought: not as a term of a necessary movement but as a longing of thrilled memory. (1984k: 169-170; emphasis added)
In another review, "Legenda si somnul in poezia lui Blaga" /Legend and sleep in Blaga's poetry (Barbu 1984h: 172), this aspect is again hinted at: "Another memory obliterates here: the collective memory of rhapsodes and prophets proclaiming fulfilled or only necessary histories. The special duration of Mr. Blaga's poetry is the duration of the fable, dream of humanity."
Along this line of thought, in the Barbian paraphrase, the "stable bodies" could represent the deep eternal reality of ideal platonic archetypes, located beyond the materiality of the text, yet whose knowledge is mediated by it. Then, Ion Barbu returns to the world of Poe's tale, i.e., "The Fall of the House of Usher"--("veritable valley"). It is a locus mirabilis, an intermediary world between the formal and the informal. Always in a state of transformation, it "hides" the immutable quality of a higher truth, similarly to the way in which "vapors"--the fusion of water and air, symbolizing the indetermination of things, through transduction--transmit their energy to the "prismatic alphabet"--the language of the poetical work, through which a mirrored image is generated, yet one that reflects the depths of the poet's soul. "The vacant eye-like windows" from Poe's tale (1982e: 231), a symbolical image of rationality, act upon "the vegetal rays"--signs of the consciousness rising to a higher level, in man's evolution toward the Absolute.
The fragmented world of immediate experience, the Romanian poet suggests, disappears, ("expiates") and find its unity in the literary work. The latter is not subjected to the limitations, either spatial ("fraction") or temporal ("second"), common of all things. The symbol, that is "the mystic or the undercurrent of meaning" (Poe 1984e: 256), mediates the transformation by means of the analogies [relations] that unify it. Through it, material objects dissolve topologically into another superior reality. For both Poe and Barbu, the imaginary space of creation "annuls" the time and the space of lived experience through the deliberate action of the artist, which gives the imagined reality, by means of continuous reciprocal adaptation, a specific spatio-temporal dimension and thus mediates the passage toward a higher reality. However, the poetical text is not the ultimate reality, for, in a neo-platonic tradition, it is only a mirror, and a figuration of it, through a symbolical logic of inversion, connected to the myth of sacrifice--both of the predicative reality and of the artist's subjectivity.
For all this, Ion Barbu comments, along the path indicated by the American writer, poetical cognition ("the dice of constant light"), which denies and at the same time protects us ("lock") from the physical, material, sublunary world ("inferior hells"), does not succeed in providing the integration of the individual soul into the cosmic one ("the Searched for Soul remained unreached"). Although the circle of true knowledge enlarges considerably, it however refuses to close.
Nevertheless, Usher, the artist of genius, on the verge of giving up to impulses (as an individual he too is subject to the laws of matter and consequently has a body tributary to pain and frustration), manages to overcome the deadlock through spontaneous improvisation:
And the psalms, risen to "the sun-deserted" Lord of this sad geometry, slowly turned into a hymn--a great Poesque chant--until fingers skillfully touched the strings of the mature harp, and the tune of the race's weddings could be heard. (Barbu 1984r: 213)
In alchemical literature, from where Ion Barbu seems to have borrowed the term, the "wedding" designates the result of spiritual cognition. It presupposes initiation into the processes of the Soul (Rulandus 1964: 105) and its experience replaces ordinary conscience. The sacred marriage, hieros gamos or coniunctio (cf. Rosenkreutz 1991), denotes the overcoming of understanding that works only with oppositions in favor of the experience of the unity that lies beyond our dual world, that potential unus mundus, of the first day of Creation, when nothing existed in actu, without duality or multiplicity, when only the One existed. The Romanian poet, like his American counterpart, conceives of poiesis in a similar manner. The act of creation, he says, "must be considered as the result of a whole and uninterrupted effort at integration (either consciously or subliminally), it is called to correct what life comprises in itself schematically differentiating." (Barbu 1976: 28; emphasis added)
When the Poet becomes conscious of the presence of the Absolute, and when his soul seems to move together with the celestial spheres, when the whole nature seems to respond to him, the invisible speaks through his voice, and his words then become "true" and transform into a hymn to creation. Not surprisingly, in the Barbian paraphrase, the "great Poesque accent," and "the tone of the race's weddings" played by Roderick Usher, which harmonizes the Soul with the Cosmos (an idea suggested among other things by the lines borrowed form Beranger, which serve as moto to the Poesque tale--"Son coeur est un luth suspendu; /Sitot qu'on le touche il resonne" [His heart is a poised lute; as soon as it is touched, it resounds]--defines a theurgical act. Through it, the poet recovers the transcendental essence, by tracing backward its "signatures" through different levels of life. The accords of the harp (guitar in the Poesque apologue), which the ancients understood as part of the cosmic order, a bridge between the sky and the earth, are an expression of the harmonious union of the forces that control existence (Cirlot 2001: 139). The Barbian enouncement also resonates with the Mallarmean reflections on the "world as a book:"
What, then, will the work itself be ? I answer a hymn, all harmony and joy; an immaculate grouping of universal relationships come together for some miraculous and glittering occasion. Man's to observe with the eyes of the divinity; for if his connection with that divinity is to be made clear, it can be expressed only by the pages of the open book in front of him. (1956a: 25)
With Edgar Poe, music primarily plays this integrating role. In "The Colloquy of Monos and Una," quoting Plato, Monos recommends the practice of musical education (mousike), in its ancient comprehensive sense, which included "not only the harmonies of time and of tune, but the poetic diction, sentiment and creation each in its widest sense. The study of music was with them in fact, the general cultivation of the taste si.e., the sixth sense, that faculty]; "which recognizes the beautiful si.e., the divine order and harmony]; in contra-distinction from reason, which deals only with the true" (Poe 1982d: 446). Thus "redeemed, regenerated," people regained their divine condition. The sign of the "illumination" of consciousness, as the author of "The Raven" suggests, is an amplification of intuition, through which the poet receives the touch of "cosmic consciousness," without losing however his physical memory. It is a specific manner of seeing and interpreting things, which transcends any form of human consciousness and cannot be expressed by ordinary language. The vision however represents a living, intelligible reality, different from any other material or spiritual forms known to man. It is a constitutive dimension of one's own being, and makes it "vibrate" together, in unison with all other things, which, though remaining the same, are now perceived with a new intensity and new meanings:
And now, from the wreck and the chaos of the usual senses, there appeared to have arisen within me a sixth, all perfect. In its exercise I found a wild delight yet a delight still physical, inasmuch as the understanding had in it no part. Motion in the animal frame had fully ceased. No muscle quivered; no nerve thrilled; no artery throbbed. But there seemed to have sprung up in the brain, that of which no words could convey to the merely human intelligence even an indistinct conception. Let me term it a mental pendulous pulsation. It was the moral embodiment of man's abstract idea of Time. By the absolute equalization of this movement--or of such as this--had the cycles of the firmamental orbs themselves, been adjusted. By its aid I measured the irregularities of the clock upon the mantel, and of the watches of the attendants. Their tickings came sonorously to my ears. The slightest deviation from the true proportion-and these deviations were omni-prevalent--affected me just as violations of abstract truth were wont, on earth, to affect the moral sense. Although no two of the time-pieces in the chamber struck individual seconds accurately together, yet I had no difficulty in holding steadily in mind the tones, and the respective momentary errors of each. And this--this keen, perfect, self-existing sentiment of duration--this sentiment existing (as man could not possibly have conceived it to exist) independently of any succession of events--this idea--this sixth sense, upspringing from the ashes of the rest, was the first obvious and certain step of the intemporal soul upon the threshold of the temporal Eternity. (Poe 1982d: 449)
What is thus contemplated is not a certain material object, which must be beautiful, but the very essence of Beauty. In the Symposium, Plato describes this level of love as "the final and highest mystery," as that which "neither comes nor ages, neither waxes, nor wanes." The Beautiful which the ancient philosopher envisages is not "beautiful in relation to one thing and ugly in relation to another; nor is it beautiful here and ugly there; itself and by itself with itself, it is always one in form; and all the other beautiful things share in it" (1997: 492-493). Similarly, for Edgar Poe, Beauty is "the excitement or pleasurable elevation of the soul" (Poe 1982g: 16), an experience to which he adds a pessimistic note, i.e. only the loss of the beloved seems to prompt the Poet to search for absolute, eternal Beauty (Jacobs 1969: 440-441). All these only confirm the intangible and spiritual nature of poetry.
The hymn of spiritual hearts
When the artist lets himself be guided by the "light" generated by the realm beyond, the immediate reality loads itself with new significations. At that moment, his soul rises on the heights of beatitude, goes into "that ecstasy, in which we become immortal for a brief hour, free of all reality, and raise our obsessions to the level of creation" (Mallarme 1956a: 26). Now for the same view:
O, never-ending vision, calm participation! Are you the elevation to thought of sweet human essences? Iridescent valley, happy dances of echoes, protective arches in the sky, the dimly perceived frigidity of those chambers subtly blends with an alternate testimony. Listen, the whispers of the defunct sister vindicate the ethereal gaps! Channels of communicated science, nuptial knowledge, antennae of Love, measuring the rolling of twin luminaries, painful to Monos and Una, living Aggrigentine love! (Barbu 1984r: 214; italics in the original)
The moment of illumination that accompanies the poetical act, expresses itself through a sort of "lyrical catharsis" ("calm participation"), which, according to Henri Bremond (1926: 180), marks "the passage from rational cognition to real and poetic cognition." It temporarily opens the artist's superficial self toward his deep one. The "catharsis" is nothing else but the aesthetic emotion that tends to communicate itself through words, which, in turn, are supposed to produce a similar effect on readers. Only it can render inspiration "properly poetic" (Bremond 1926: 199). Such an experience, symbolically suggested, through a bright display of colors ("iridescent valley"), sounds ("happy dances of echoes"), translates the exhilaration of the soul that has regained its lost Unity ("protective arches in the sky") with the world. Moreover, the Barbian passage from "The Vigil" seems to closely follow the symbolism of the rainbow from Poe's "A Descent into the Maelstrom." Here it unveils the concentration of matter and energy in the vortex of the maelstrom--the intersection between the natural and the unnatural, body and soul, time and space:
The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a thick mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over which there hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering bridge which Mussulmen say is the only pathway between Time and Eternity with the visible and invisible (possible) world. (Poe 1982a: 137)
The Barbian text also reminds us that, with Edgar Poe, "the poetical sentiment" generated by the contemplation of Divine Beauty, either in the poet and in the reader, transforms itself into a vehicle of true cognition. Barbu seems to identify here a procedure, which is familiar to him too, but of whose sense he cannot entirely be sure: "Are you the rising to thought of the sweet familiar essences?" Although the artist of genius cannot completely overcome the resistance matter, he however can idealize it, that is, adapt it to his thought. No matter how Poe has practically achieved the effect, he has created a language capable of capturing the newly emerging reality ("the dimly perceived frigidity of those chambers"), in/ through which he identifies, even if fragmentary, the echoes of the Absolute ("familiar essences"). Barbu's extract also distinctly echoes Stephane Mallarme's meditation on poetry: "Yes, I am traveling, but in unknown lands; and if I have fled from the fierce heat of reality and taken pleasure in cold imagery, it is because, for a month now, I have been on the purest glaciers of Esthetics; because, after I had found Nothingness, I found Beauty." (Mallarme 1956f: 88-89; emphasis added)
In Romantic theory, the genius is the individual in which perception, intellect and volition are not balanced. With him, perception seems to concentrate all his creative energies, while his intellect remains rather lethargic. The imagination--the capacity to see, at a glance, the whole universe (Schlegel 1991: 48, 57), to identify correspondences in contradictions, and then give them synthetic expression--is the language specific of genius in the Kantian doctrine, the main source of the Romantic dogma:
[...] genius 1) is a talent for producing that for which no determinate rule can be given, not a predisposition of skill for that which can be learned in accordance with some rule, consequently that originality must be its primary characteristic. 2) That since there can also be original nonsense, its products must at the same time be models, i.e., exemplary, hence, while not themselves the result of imitation, they must yet serve others in that way, i.e., as a standard or a rule for judging. a 3) That it cannot itself describe or indicate scientifically how it brings its product into being, but rather that it gives the rule as nature, and hence the author of a product that he owes to his genius does not know himself how the ideas for it come to him, and also does not have it in his power to think up such things at will or according to plan, and to communicate to others precepts that would put them in a position to produce similar products. (For that is also presumably how the word "genius" is derived from genius, in the sense of the particular spirit given to a person at birth, which protects and guides him, and from whose inspiration those original ideas stem.) 4) That by means of genius nature does not prescribe the rule to science but to art, and even to the latter only insofar as it is to be beautiful art. (Kant 2000: 186-197)
The words of the poet of genius are final and sensitive expressions of a reality inaccessible to others. His originality and individuality result from his dedication, in life and in art, to the supreme love, i.e. Beauty, toward which he continuously advances unabashedly, yet in harmony with the whole universe.
With Poe too, the imagination transforms natural emotion into aesthetic sentiment:
the higher order of genius should, and will, combine the original with that which is natural--not in the vulgar sense, (ordinary)--but in the artistic sense, which has reference to the general intention of Nature," si.e., in rapport with the perfect order and harmony of the universe]. (Poe 1984c: 1355)
Closer in time to Ion Barbu, and partially continuing the Kantian line of thought, which is one of Poe's important sources, Bergson notes that the distinctive sign of geniality in artists lies in the fact that the author perceives states, experiences, for which ordinary man has no adequate expression. The French philosopher also establishes that "Truth" is the sole criterion of measuring exemplarity and universality in art:
What the artist has seen we shall probably never see again, or at least never see in exactly the same way; but if he has actually seen it, the attempt he has made to lift the veil compels our imitation. His work is an example, which we take as a lesson. And the efficacy of the lesson is the exact standard of the genuineness of the work. Consequently, truth bears within itself a power of conviction, nay, of conversion, which is the sign that enables us to recognize it. The greater the work and the more profound the dimly apprehended truth, the longer may the effect be in coming, but, on the other hand, the more universal will that effect tend to become. So the universality here lies in the effect produced, and not in the cause. (Bergson 1911: 162-163)
In the literary work of art, an invisible yet irresistible force harmonizes its components into a unitary whole. As Logos ("alternative testimony"), the same energy founds the universe ("explains the ethereal empty spaces") and consequently has a cosmic dimension. We should not forget that, for Poe, ether is "the great medium of creation." (Poe 1982g: 442)
The sun and the moon (the "twin luminaries"), to which reference is subsequently made in the Barbian paraphrase, represent a metaphorical cosmic reductio of the same forming force, in its active, masculine, and the passive feminine aspects respectively. Their reciprocal attraction is seen by Empedocles of Aggrigento (Sicily)--one of Poe's key philosophical sources in Eureka--, as an essential connection, manifestation of a unifying cosmic principle, which he calls Love ("Aggrigentine love," in "The Vigil"). Together with Hate, Love helps explain the combination and, respectively, the separation of the fundamental elements that make up the universe (fire, air, water and earth), in other words, the variation and the harmony of matter's organization. (1908: 22-29)
With Bergson, the same notion acquires clear aesthetic features, and becomes "creative emotion" In other words, it is no longer the effect of some representation, but it is itself creative, i.e. precedes any representation, and generates new ideas. It does not properly have an object, only an essence that sheds over the whole of nature:
Imagine a piece of music which expresses love. It is not love for any particular person. Another piece of music will express another love. Here we have two distinct emotional atmospheres, two different fragrances, and in both cases the quality of love will depend upon its essence and not upon its object. Nevertheless, it is hard to conceive a love which is, so to speak, at work, and yet applies to nothing. As a matter of fact, the mystics unanimously bear witness that God needs us, just as we need God.... In point of fact it does not introduce these feelings into us; it introduces us into them ... (Bergson 1935: 218; emphasis added)
Emotion is creative; it is a sort of cosmic memory that actualizes all the levels being at the same time, thus expressing the whole of creation (Deleuze 1966: 117), freeing the individual from the bonds of his attention to life, and making a Creator of him. This liberation is achieved in some privileged spirits only:
A work of genius is in most cases the outcome of an emotion, unique of its kind, which seemed to baffle expression, and yet which had to express itself. But is not this so of all work, however imperfect, into which there enters some degree of creativeness? Anyone engaged in writing has been in a position to feel the difference between an intelligence left to itself and that which burns with the fire of an original and unique emotion, born of the identification of the author with his subject, that is to say of intuition. In the first case the mind cold-hammers the materials, combining together ideas long since cast into words and which society supplies in a solid form. In the second, it would seem that the solid materials supplied by intelligence first melt and mix, then solidify again into fresh ideas now shaped by the creative mind itself. If these ideas find words already existing which can express them, for each of them this seems a piece of unexpected good luck; and, in truth, it has often been necessary to assist fortune, and strain the meaning of a word, to mould it to the thought. In that event the effort is painful and the result problematical. But it is in such a case only that the mind feels itself, or believes itself, to be creative. It no longer starts from a multiplicity of ready-made elements to arrive at a composite unity made up of a new arrangement of the old. It has been transported at a bound to something which seems both one and unique, and which will contrive later to express itself, more or less satisfactorily, in concepts both multiple and common, previously provided by language. (Bergson 1935: 43; emphasis added)
Moreover, creative emotion materializes in a work that is capable of communicating it, i.e. emotion, to others, for the ultimate aim of art is to "create creators" (Bergson 1935: 218). From soul to soul, crossing closed deserts, art communicates a sort of reminiscence that others can follow, thus tracing the design of an open society. It is the genesis ofintuition in intelligence. (Deleuze 1966: 117-118)
Only in such a context does the following assertion of Ion Barbu make full sense: "Love can be accommodated only in the exhaustive song, in the curved and hermetic spaces of the verse; they alone keep it as a universe before us." (Barbu 1984k: 168; emphasis added)
"Painful to Monos and Una," because the protagonists of the Poesque apologue obtain this superior understanding only by crossing "the dark Valley and Shadow," i.e., death, which thus appears as a necessary condition for spiritual rebirth, for the discovery of the "sixth sense" (aesthetic), that carries them to the threshold of eternity. Poe too draws attention, in "The Poetic Principle," on this distinction, whose origin is most likely Plato's Symposium:
It has been my purpose to suggest that, while this principle itself is strictly and simply the Human Aspiration for Supernal Beauty, the manifestation of the Principle is always found in an elevating excitement of the soul, quite independent of that passion which is the intoxication of the Heart, or of that truth which is the satisfaction of the Reason. For in regard to passion, alas! its tendency is to degrade rather than to elevate the Soul. Love, on the contrary--Love--the true, the divine Eros--the Uranian as distinguished from the Dionnan Venus--is unquestionably the purest and truest of all poetical themes. (1984h: 92)
Pure, visionary poetry ("communicated science"), Barbu comments in the next section of "The Vigil of Roderick Usher," conditions the manner in which the world shows itself to us; its imaginary world transcends time, and generates new perceptions. The kind of comprehension that poetry proposes is "nuptial," that is, unifying, integrating. This idea is also central to Poe's poetics. However, the American author seems to reduce it to the quality of the emotion generated by it and the rhetoric necessary for its production, an opinion he first launched in the Drake & Halleck Review (1836), where he declares: "a poem is not the Poetic faculty, but the means of exciting it in mankind. Now these means the metaphysician may discover by analysis of their effects in other cases than his own" and "the only proper method of testing the merits of a poem is by measuring its capabilities of exciting the Poetic Sentiment in others" (Poe 1984: 511). Then, he further developed the idea in The Philosophy of Composition, as follows:
I need scarcely observe that a poem deserves its title only inasmuch as it excites, by elevating the soul. The value of the poem is in the ratio of this elevating excitement. But all excitements are, through a psychal necessity, transient. That degree of excitement which would entitle a poem to be so called at all, cannot be sustained throughout a composition of any great length. After the lapse of half an hour, at the very utmost, it flags--fails--a revulsion ensues--and then the poem is, in effect and in fact, no longer such. (Poe 1984g:71)
Bergson (1960: 16) comments in the same sense: "art aims at impressing feelings on us rather than expressing them; it suggests them to us, and willingly dispenses with the imitation of nature when it finds some more efficacious means." However, in the Bergsonian vision, emotion overcomes the psychological framework, which the Poesque theory underlines, and adds to it a clear cognitive dimension, an important nuance to which the Romanian poet could not remain indifferent:
But the merit of a work of art is not measured so much by the power with which the suggested feeling takes hold of us as by the richness of this feeling itself: in other words, besides degrees of intensity we instinctively distinguish degrees of depth or elevation. (Bergson 1960: 18)
Ion Barbu, who Socratically aspires to Truth, i.e. for the reconciliatory cognition of the great oppositions, for "an intellectual mode of the Lyre" seems to have doubts about the path chosen by the author of "The Raven," although he acknowledges the latter's power to generate aesthetic emotions. The role of art, as the American writers suggests in Drake & Halleck Review (1984: 511), is not to replicate a certain experience, but to indicate readers the path to Absolute Beauty. Indeed, for Ion Barbu too, the proper object of poetical composition is an assertion predominantly intellectual, from which eventually aesthetic emotion may result: "A soul more religious than artistically, I wished to give my verse the equivalent of some absolute states of the intellect and vision" (Barbu 1984a: 182). The Barbian formula once more reminds us of Poe: "Poesy is the sentiment of Intellectual Happiness here, and the Hope of a higher Intellectual Happiness hereafter. Imagination is its Soul." (Poe 1984j: 510-511)
That is why Monos ("unipolar axis"), Spiritus Tutelaris of "pure poetry" (in "sole intellectual sky")--, interrupts ("curtly brought to a standstill") the pathetic impromptu ("the disordered improvisation") of Roderick Usher, the artist of genius ("the Astartean and singular master"), discontented, it seems, with the solution advanced. The apparition of the raven and the idea of the "Nevermore" leitmotif as ransoms ("delivered him the mortgage for the soul") for the tormenting existential questions to which the protagonist of "The Raven" searches for an answer, which, following the principles laid down in the Philosophy of Composition, necessarily ("apodictic[ally]") derive from the logic of poetical construction, and from the effect rigorously aimed at by the poet, are however inspired solutions ("came flapping from the shadows") only:
Yet, Monos, unipolar axis in this unique intellectual sky, curtly brought to a standstill the disordered improvisation of the Astartean and singular master, until an apodictic specter came flapping from the shadows, and delivered him the mortgage for the soul, the Raven's reply, from that oppressing December. (Barbu 1984r: 214)
The improvisation of Roderick Usher illustrates, if we could say so, the poetry of inspiration, whose remotest model remains the Homeric aiodos. Ion Barbu too sees, in the act of poetical creation, an arch over time, a return to the "original poetical act: the laurel wrath, and the lyre" by which he understands a certain "rhapsodic attitude" (Barbu 1984f: 204). However, the ancient aiodos often appears possessed by a furor poeticus and, inspired by muses, his voice turns prophetic. That is why he is often seen as a messenger of gods. In "The Republic," but especially in "Ion" (1997: 941-942), criticism to which the Romanian poet seems to adhere, is aimed at a certain aspect. In particular, it unveils the fundamental otherness of artistic creation--the work places itself beyond the initial project and intentions of the author as a historical subject, and its intimate mechanisms remain unknown.
Later on, Romanticism made the poet sacred and consecrated him as "the priest of an eternal religion" (Benichou 1996: 422-423), "an inspired bearer of modern lights, and at the same time, of mystery, showing people a remote and pure goal, and guiding them in their enterprise (1996: 469470). Vital for the Romantic Weltanschauung remains the idea, of Kantian origin, that the poet is, as the French critic puts it, "a rare and privileged creature." (1996: 422)
Moreover, the poet is capable, through the magical powers of his imagination, to create something new, unique and original, thus transgressing the conditionings of his existence, and enlarging the sphere of knowledge in general (Kant had limited it to the domain of art only):
Of genius the only proof is, the act of doing well what is worthy to be done, and what was never done before: Of genius, in the fine arts, the only infallible sign is the widening the sphere of human sensibility, for the delight, honor, and benefit of human nature. Genius is the introduction of a new element into the intellectual universe: or, if that be not allowed, it is the application of powers to objects on which they had not before been exercised, or the employment of them in such a manner as to produce effects hitherto unknown. (Wordsworth 1996: 750)
On the other hand, by placing creative energy in zones located beyond conscious control, the Romantics often present their own works as upsurges of inspiration, generated by unleashed frenzy, to the ability of freely associating and immediately reacting to any thing or any event that asks for their attention. In the "Preface" to the 1800 edition of The Lyrical Ballads (Wordsworth 1991: 237), Wordsworth proclaims that "all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings."
On the other hand, Coleridge (1956: 790) let it be understood that the 340 lines that make up his "Letter to--[Sarah Hutchinson]," the first version of a poem entitled "Dejection. An ode," published later one the same year, were written, according to the note that accompanies them on "April 4, 1802, Sunday Evening," therefore under the sign of momentous inspiration and are therefore the unrestrained expression of his own experiences.
In A Defense of Poetry (1840), Percy Bysshe Shelley too pleads for an art spontaneously conceived:
Poetry is not like reasoning, a power to be exerted according to the determination of the will. A man cannot say, "I will compose poetry." The greatest poet even cannot say it; for the mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness; this power arises from within, like the color of a flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the conscious portions of our natures are unprophetic either of its approach or its departure. Could this influence be durable in its original purity and force, it is impossible to predict the greatness of the results; but when composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline, and the most glorious poetry that has ever been communicated to the world is probably a feeble shadow of the original conceptions of the poet. (Shelley 1904: 77-78)
Edgar Allan Poe is obviously familiar with these loci communes of Romantic literary theory, yet he is definitely against this mystique that unjustly glorifies the act of creation. Imagination is indeed creative, he opines in "The Philosophy of Composition" (1846), nevertheless the poet needs reflecting on its own creative process:
Most writers poets in especial prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy an ecstatic intuition and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes, at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought at the true purposes seized only at the last moment at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable at the cautious selections and rejections at the painful erasures and interpolations in a word, at the wheels and pinions the tackle for scene-shifting the stepladders and demontraps the cock's feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety nine cases out of the hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio. (Poe 1984g: 14)
He strongly defends the idea that "no one point in its composition [of "The Raven"] is referable either to accident or intuition" (Poe 1984g: 15) which is obviously an exaggeration, meant to counterbalance the irrationalism characteristic of the Romantic doctrine. More evidence is provided by an earlier review, "Drake & Halleck" that Poe published in the Southern Literary Messenger, in 1836. The readers' answer to a literary text is mediated by what he calls, using a term borrowed from phrenology, "the Faculty of Ideality," that is, the imagination. However, from the creator's viewpoint, the work essentially remains the product of his purely intellectual activity, or, as he says, of "the organs of Causality and Comparison." (1984: 510-512)
In Barbu's view, which he shares with other theoreticians of "pure poetry', such as Mallarme (Divagations, 1897: 123-124), Valery (Au sujet d Eureka, 1924), and Bremond (La poesie pure, 1926: 15), who made of the American poet a forerunner--the idea appears in Eureka too--the poet channels universal energies, institutes himself in them, in order to control them and to give, in true Kantian tradition (2000: 186), their true measure. His utterings are sacred and they reveal supreme truths. However, the unhindered enthusiasm of improvisation, Barbu seems to imply, closely following Edgar Poe (Poe 1984h: 78), unawares transforms the poetical work into the unconscious expression of a thought that overcomes its author. Under the circumstances, the poet ultimately becomes a mere vehicle of the idea, and his endeavor turns into what the American author disdainfully calls "didacticism." Poetry, thus produced, would not be pure and absolute beauty. This way, Barbu comments, the poet gives up not only his own responsibility, but also the autonomy of his work, for which "construction" (cf. Poesque plot) remains the essential datum:
Creative activity is only to a weak measure the expression of our own emotional background. Otherwise, how could we explain the amplitude and diversity of the art works born out the unrest of the same spirit? In vain would we find refuge in the hypothesis of some mysterious state of consciousness, postulating an absurd and mediocre inspiration. It explains nothing, and the artistic achievement does not gain anything when wrapped in this divine prestige. (Barbu 1976: 28)
Veritable inspiration, Barbu argues, does not simply mean abandonment to unconscious associations, but mobilization of all the resources of intelligence. The Romanian poet rejects "naive," unreflective creation, "poetry understood as a great sensuality, the spoken equivalent of a Rubens." Instead, he values the "critical literary creation" which sublimates "emotion to the "ethereal," in which he sees a specific mark of English poetry. Somewhere else (Barbu 1984q: 143), modulating the well-known Wordsworthian formula, Ion Barbu defines poetry as "a lyrical disorder solved in tranquility." Only in the initial moments of its birth does the poem stay under the sign of haphazard. Afterward, the form, which the poet develops organically from the aesthetic emotion, is not imposed "mechanically" from the outside of the text, for it belongs to the text. That is why Barbu rejects the Surrealist doctrine:
Rather, surrealists retain from the dream the logic of its succession, based on the confusion of contraries, without getting closer to what we dare call the light of the dream. One must rake domains alien to literature and Surrealism to solve the problem of the immanent light that preoccupied Rembrandt, the first Surrealist. (1984: 134)
The Rembrandtian "immanent light" is the vital impulse which the great artist attempts to recover through a sort of anamnesis from the depths of his own self; its conscious search remains, according to Barbu, the defining feature of art in general.
In Phaedrus, through the myth of the winged horses and of the coachman, Plato allegorically configures a tripartite model of the soul, which is the liminal point of all later theories--Kant, Coleridge, and Bergson--the coachman represents the intellect, the black horse, the devouring passions, the white horse, man's irascible nature. Only by taming the horses can the coachman rise to the skies and enjoy divine knowledge. To reach true understanding, the ancient philosopher advocates, man must control his passions.
Edgar Poe reasons in a similar manner when he condemns "the didactic heresy" in poetry. By this, he means lyrical confession, the more or less conscious subordination of poetical creation to what remains contingent and superficially subjective. This way, the author proposes only fragmentary truths, whose value for prose he does not deny, but which have no place in poetry (Poe 1984f: 683-695). To Poe, veritable poetry remains celestial. In a "Marginalia" note of December 1844, he is even more categorical when stating that "a poem now written will be poetic in the exact ration of its dispassion. A passionate poem is a contradiction in terms" (1984: 1354; emphasis added). The purpose of poiesis, therefore, is to create that exalted state of mind, "close to the death of senses," in order to regain "divine joys" (Richard 1978: 496). This is but a preparatory condition for the ultimate cognition, i.e. pleasure, by means of which the artist attempts to recover the sense of universal harmony and regain the organic appurtenance to the cosmos, a sentiment that he must be able to generate in the reader too.
However, the imperfection of the method through which, starting form generous poetical principles--the ideal Beauty as the unique object of poetry, whose aim is to awaken in others (readers) the Poetic Sentiment, that is, the vision of Nature's harmony and order, the precepts of consistency, unity of effect, and of the poetical construction--, Edgar Poe solves, theoretically and practically, the requirements that emerge from them, is explained by Ion Barbu as the incapacity ("deficiency") of the memorable lines from "The Raven" ("the syllables precipices") to express "Truth" fully; it somewhat drains the celebrated "Nevermore" leitmotif of more profound significations ("empty"):
At that moment, the sad sight and the abundant ebony (the bird, therefore, alone, and the bust) made the syllables-precipices deficient, and the "nevermore" enunciation, empty. (Barbu 1984r: 214; italics in the original)
The Poesque solution offers only the "feeling," not the pure aesthetic emotion, of a transcendent reality, which ultimately remains inaccessible, not only to his protagonist, but also to himself: "And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor / Shall be lifted--nevermore!" (Poe 1982h: 946) In Barbu's view, its fundamental flaw consists precisely in the lack of a specific approach, in the sense of the rigors of "pure poetry," which would transfigure the too copious presence of the data of direct perception ("the sad sight and the abundant ebony. ..") . This, in contradiction to his own poetics, Edgar Poe had been unable to eliminate, possibly because of the too tight logic of effect. In The Philosophy of Composition, he even insists on the necessity of preserving, to a certain extent, the situation in "The Raven" within the limits of the immediate reality, because, says he, he aims at a concrete "psychal" effect:
With the denouement proper--with the Raven's reply, "Nevermore," to the lover's final demand if he shall meet his mistress in another world--the poem, in its obvious phase, that of a simple narrative, may be said to have its completion. So far, everything is within the limits of the accountable--of the real. (Poe 1984g: 23)
Nonetheless, transcending the real remains the sine qua non condition of Barbian poetics. For this reason, the author of "Joc secund" / Second Game rejects Tudor Arghezi's poetical formula, which he metaphorically characterizes as "poetry that is sadder than matter, which has been thrown from the orbits of the communicating stars, and bypasses black, degraded suns. The opulent and thick detail is much searched for (Barbu 1984j: 154). To this "idle poetry" Barbu opposes another one that proposes "substantially undefined existences: trembling detours around some cupolas--the restrained number of polyhedral perfections" (1984: 139). In the same interview, the Romanian poet estimates that "poetry that deals with things would cheat on my ambition. Such poetry necessarily creates a Physics or a Rhetoric (the same thing!), coagulated forms of the spirit's life" (1984: 139). Instead, Barbu elaborates the project of a lucid poetry, attentive to "ultimate things" only:
The ideal point of this poetry [...] lies under the constellation and the rarefication of absolute lyricism, distanced by several bridges of rays from "the sign of the other poetry," sentimental poetry, naive and sincere, the poetry of the "Darwinian struggle of individual forms." It is a poetry where emotion emerges intellectually from thinking, from the free certitude of homogenous lyricism, instructing of essential things, delighting with paradisiacal vision. (Barbu 1984a:183)
The conference on Jean Moreas (1947), the French poet whom he sees as a continuator of the poetical revolution initiated by Edgar Poe, provides a more detailed examination of this particular aspect of Barbu's poetics. On this occasion, the Romanian poet "reproaches" the author of "The Raven" that he showed no preoccupation for "axiomatically" delineating and founding the domain of poetry. Strictly speaking, Poe did not develop a poetics, starting from some more generally formulated "truths":
... Poe's manifestoes have nothing to do with pure poetry: the autonomous poetical operation is not even defined. The procedures that he discloses--no matter how interesting they may be--mostly regard versification. As for the domain destined to this operation, it is far from being pure. Indeed, to expand this domain to the whole soul does not mean simplifying or purifying.
Poe's critical work appears to us as a collection of psychological problems, an essay on the best conditions for the reception of poetry, a sort of lyrical methodology. [...]
We however, insist: Poe does not explain, or he explains badly, when he names the domain of poetry. By identifying it with the whole soul--a synthesis of comprehension, sensibility and passion--he does not proceed as a purist, that is, as an abstractor.
In other words, the moment Edgar Poe is marked by methodological preoccupations and by a need of technical rigor, profoundly different from this modern search for a "lyrical catharsis." The idealist solution he proposes to the poetical space, in a certain whole soul, seems naive and provisional. [...]
The singular position, which Edgar Poe has among poets, owes much to this capacity of appropriating an emergent problem of general criticism, of translating it into terms of some prosody, and of solving it, in his own way. (Barbu 1984f: 202-203)
Barbu partially rejects the Poesque conception of poetry, whose domain would be the whole Soul, as idealist, because the concept, more psychological, which frames it, is amendable, to say the least. From another perspective, i.e. of absolute lyricism, of those familiar with its mechanisms ("floral, trained ears), the experiential content is indispensable, yet it belongs, as we have already said, to the initial moments of the creative act:
Here, however, floral, trained ears, interpreted them necessary as the interim, yet of a "white combustion. " Exhaustion through oblivion: the taumaturgical fact of Analysis, giving alien and transferred life to extreme pulverizations. (Barbu 1984r: 214)
Through a metaphor ("white combustion") borrowed from alchemy, Ion Barbu points to the necessity of transforming, through successive poetic operations, the experiential material. The aim is to generate the "perfect" poem, in the same way as, in the alchemical process, through albedo/ albification, the masa confusa of primary data is sublimated into two elements in polar antithesis to each other, whose convergence (coincidentia oppositorum) is solved in the next stage (ribedo), which eventually results in the Philosophical Stone.
It is very likely that Ion Barbu borrowed the term "exhaustion" from Paul Valery. In Introduction to the method of Leonardo da Vinci (1894/1919), the French poet defines it as an essential feature of consciousness--the detachment from its own contents--through which "the wit" (the artist or the scientist) refuses any finitude that might define or close him. Instead, it designates the opening of consciousness to new relations, to the plenitude of life (Valery 1919: 33).
Before Paul Valery Stephane Mallarme had ably expressed a similar idea in a letter to Henri Cazalis, of May 14, 1867:
I should add--and you must say nothing of this-that the price of my victory is so high that I still need to see myself in this mirror in order to think; and that if it were not in front of me here on the table as I write you, I would become Nothingness again. Which means that I am impersonal now: not the Stephane you once knew, but one of the ways the Spiritual Universe has found to see Itself, unfold Itself through what used to be me. (1956: 93-94)
"Exhaustion" would therefore be the deliberate search for, or equivalent to "the poetic frenzy," characteristic of the ancient bard, or to that "immense and reasoned derangement of the senses," through which the poet experiences "all forms of love, suffering, and madness; he searches himself," [...] and preserves "only essences " in order to "make himself clairvoyant" (Rimbaud 1975: 137; emphasis added). Edgar Poe seems to have anticipated the phenomenon: "One striking thing about "The Colloquy" is that Monos experiences pleasure from the derangement of the senses, a condition most of us would regard as the threshold of madness. Yet we are aware that synesthesia was exploited by the French symbolists and that Poe preceded them in suggesting that a deliberate derangement of the senses might be a source of pleasure." (Jacobs 1969: 409)
The experience is not different from the "state of geometry" that Ion Barbu speaks about, in an article on the German mathematician David Hilbert (Barbu 1984b: 234). The author of the "Joc secund" / Second Game also uses the term in a more technical, restrictive, yet, at the same time more precise sense, by means of which, the spirit opens itself to the infinite possibilities of creation:
Mathematicians alone will no doubt understand the mystery of that device of exhaustion, of exhibiting the qualities of a figure--generous and free construction of transcendence. Mathematical worlds are visibly external; only virtual somatic impulses, accumulation of operations connects them. The extreme riches, honors, beauties and the lives that Matei Caragiale attributed to his characters are of the same nature with the infinity of operations that unbinds us from a world of algebraic beings, for a superior degree of transcendence. In literature, the ideality of characters is obtained, especially through an excess of generosity. (Barbu 1984m: 176-177)
Thus understood, poetic creation shows obvious analogies with the way in which Henri Bergson defines the intellect as an instrument of efficient action (Bergson 1960: 97). "Exhaustion through oblivion," because memory, by means of which the past prolongs its existence into the present, attached to perception, through a mechanical procedure, replaces "the very foundation of our conscious existence [...] that is to say extending the past into the present, that is to say, finally and irreversibly active duration" (Bergson 1944: 20), by a series of isolated temporal sequences. The recovery of this primary reality, states Bergson (1944: 22), presupposes a vigorous effort of analysis (cf. "the taumaturgical fact of Analysis," in the Barbian paraphrase), the operation by which an object is defined, not in itself, but by relating it to other objects. Unable to circumscribe the object's "individuality," the French philosopher continues, analytical consciousness is forced, for practical reasons, to multiply the perspectives from which the object is viewed. This way, what in simple intuition is perceived as "a perpetual change of form" presents to us, in the work, as an indefinite number of juxtaposed aspects, to which "extreme pulverizations" from "The Vigil of Roderick Usher" correspond). The argument is summarized in An introduction to metaphysics as follows:
Analysis, on the contrary, is the operation which reduces the object to elements already known, that is, to elements common both to it and other objects. To analyze, therefore, is to express a thing as a function of something other than itself. All analysis is thus a translation, a development into symbols, a representation taken from successive points of view from which we note as many resemblances as possible between the new object which we are studying and others which we believe we know already. In its eternally unsatisfied desire to embrace the object around which it is compelled to turn, analysis multiplies without end the number of its points of view in order to complete its always incomplete representation, and ceaselessly varies its symbols that it may perfect the always imperfect translation. It goes on, therefore, to infinity. (1910: 7-8)
The procedure results in conferring "foreign and transferred existence," as Barbu puts it in "The Vigil" (Barbu 1984r: 214), upon the data of our immediate experience. However, he argues somewhere else (Barbu 1984p: 221) that "the nature of poetry is topological not algorithmic," i.e., the lived experience undergoes a radical metamorphosis, subjected to such operations as abstracting, or axiomatizing. Confronted with the exigencies of "pure lyricism," as Barbu understands it--the Poesque method shows its limitations.
Your defunct Madeleines, Lenores, Ullalumes--necessarily sacrificed for the sake of the poetic thought--belong to the negative, invaginated nature, hence to eternally denied Forms. The Sagittarian zenith of our exigencies keeps them away, as corruptions (in the factitious and translated soul of the commenting tarn)! (Barbu 1984r: 214)
In "The Philosophy of Composition," Poe states "the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world" (1984g: 19). However, as Claude Richard notices, "Poe's conscious temptation was to achieve this rhythmic pulsation, by which individual consciousness and the universe coincide, before death, to outwit the power of death over knowledge" (1978: 496; emphasis added). By contrast, with Ion Barbu, femininity has but a cosmic dimension, and the individual is seen only from the perspective of "devising the adventure of being" (Barbu 1984m: 176). Poe's heroines--Madeleine, Lenore, Ulalume--all belong, first of all, to the immediate experience ("invaginated nature"), turned on itself, and lived in accordance with a prevalent and artificial sensus communis ("patterns"), which "absolute lyricism" rejects ("eternally denied Forms"). Once more, the Romanian poet recuperates a Poesque thought, for in a "Marginalia" note, of June 1849, the American poet says:
Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term "art," I should call it the "reproduction of what the senses perceive in nature through the veil of the soul." The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of "artist." Denner was no artist. The grapes of Zeuxis were inartistic, unless in a bird's-eye view; and not even the curtain of Parrhasius could conceal his deficiency in point of genius. I have mentioned the "veil of the soul." Something of the kind appears indispensable in art. We can, at any time, double the true beauty of an actual landscape by half closing our eyes as we look at it. The naked senses sometimes see too little, but then always they see too much. (1984a: 1458)
Put differently, poetic creation is not true creation, because the poet does not bring things into existence, through his words. Poetry is not an attempt to imitate supernatural beauty, which remains inimitable; it necessarily derives from the "poetical sentiment:"
But this repetition is not Poesy. He who shall merely sing with whatever rapture, in however harmonious strains, or with however vivid a truth of imitation, of the sights and sounds which greet him in common with all mankind--he, we say, has yet failed to prove his divine title. There is still a longing unsatisfied, which he has been impotent to fulfill. There is still a thirst unquenchable, which to allay he has shown us no crystal springs. This burning thirst belongs to the immortal essence of man's nature. It is equally a consequence and an indication of his perennial life. It is the desire of the moth for the star. It is not the mere appreciation of the beauty before us. It is a wild effort to reach the beauty above. It is a forethought of the loveliness to come. It is a passion to be satisfied by no sublunary sights, or sounds, or sentiments, and the soul thus athirst strives to allay its fever in futile efforts at creation. Inspired with a prescient ecstasy of the beauty beyond the grave, it struggles by multiform novelty of combination among the things and thoughts of Time, to anticipate some portion of that loveliness whose very elements, perhaps, appertain solely to Eternity; and the result of such effort, on the part of souls fittingly constituted, is alone what mankind have agreed to denominate Poetry. (Poe 1984f: 685)
Poe knows that aesthetic transposition can never be the rigorous equivalent of sensorial experience. Descriptive truth cannot be attained, even in sculpture, the most imitative of arts. No matter how organic the poet's sensitivity may be, in relation to the continuous becoming of life, its unaltered transcription leads only to a procreative process, yet not to an authentic act of creation. The poet can benefit of these suggestions--poetry is not creation ex nihilo--only by deliberately controlling them. Poetry emerges only when the primary data of experience are directed by intellect toward a precise effect--the poetical sentiment--which, then, may lead to the discovery of the divine harmony of the world. To re-order, in accordance with an aesthetical principle, the forms of life, in other words, to modify relations among objects, or to uncover new ones, to give form to the informal means true creation. Furthermore, the writing of the "perfect poem" also presupposes the annihilation of the empirical self, of what Poe calls "the atemporal soul." (Poe 1982d: 49)
Life on earth unfolds itself under the sign of "stupor" (Poe 1982b: 452), and real cognition, under these circumstances, is impossible. Only death, developing the "sixth sense" ("The Colloquy of Monos and Una"), otherwise almost completely atrophied in our terrestrial life, can progressively reveal the identity of man's own being with the divine cosmos. Through the physical obliteration of his characters, Poe figuratively dissolves the nothingness of the material world, in order to favor the imaginative approximation of the Absolute.
Like Poe, Ion Barbu greets the primary material coming from independent sources, yet percepts rather impede the artist's effort to identify their adequate symbolical expression. Nonetheless, for the Romanian poet, who aims at a poetry freed of the bonds of time and space, whose model is the "topos atopos of the ancients" (Barbu 1984f: 203), Edgar Poe's lyrical creations represent a hybrid, not true [pure] poetry. From the height of his own "absolute lyricism" ("the Sagittarian zenith of our exigencies"), some of Poe's literary works (at least!) show obvious shortcomings, and are thereof rejected as caught in "the factitious and translated soul of the commenting tarn," which offers only an inverted, artificial image of "reality," yet not an "abstraction" from it. In an interview, Barbu clearly highlights that the domain of poetry "is autonomous [...] Not through the will of the poet to abstract from accident, yet by the specific nature of its universe" (1984: 140; emphasis added). In his opinion, Edgar Poe did not identify an efficient formula to accede to the true reality (the domain of Beauty), since the devices he imagined in the Philosophy of Composition, and as illustrated by his most famous poem, "The Raven," seem to obey to a logic of feeling that keeps poetry in the contingent. The poetical revolution, which Poe started, was accomplished, the Romanian poet explains, in a 1947 conference, by Jean Moreas. The French poet's work constitutes a new moment in the evolution of "critical consciousness," since it confines poetry to the domain of Spirit/Intellect:
Therefore, Poe's problem, that of researching on the real domain of poetry, which he solved by adjunction, is solved by Moreas through exclusion. The domain of poetry is not the integral soul, only the privileged zone where the chords of the lyre resound. It is the place of any intelligible beauty, pure understanding, honor paid to geometers. (1984: 195)
Poetry, as Ion Barbu understands it, must assume a sovereign, definite domain of reality, bound by specific operations (or "rituals" as he likes to call them). Founded on some general truths, which the poet naturally assumes, and on the conscious control of the means of expression --an aspect that however excludes any Romantic pathetic effect--, it can produce a personal, integrating model of the world:
Once evoked, will be the origin of a number of bardic operations, and specific rites that constitute the domain of poetry. The effect of the romantic orgy or of the symbolist orchestra is banished from this strict creation. Only the gentle breeze compatible with the double tetrachord of Papadiamantopoulos' stanza. (Barbu 1984: 194)
The severe aesthetic precepts--"Moreas' stanza emulates mathematical enunciation" (1984: 194) --condition the interpretation that Ion Barbu makes of the French poet's poetry. He also notes its "canonical Beauty" (controlled by strict rules), its complex sonorous architecture--a response profoundly motivated, not a simple symbolist music for the ear, the unpretentious ("laconic") form that clothes emotion (which must be understood as intuition of the lived experience and not as sentimental effusion), the superior game of configurations. The stanzas, as metrical aspects of the dynamic scheme in which the poet transposes his own intuitions, retain a relative autonomy, but at the same time, are subject to the unifying effect of the whole poem, through natural relations, through an extremely attentive orchestration of the component elements, so that each and every detail counts (1984: 194). Barbu points out the ideality of the French poet's themes, whose data are seemingly recovered, through a sort of platonic anamnesis ("this world of reminiscences"). The conclusion is inescapable: "with Moreas (always Moreas of The Stances) there is no question of inventing, but of purifying and eliminating" (1984: 193, emphasis added), that is to say, to stylize and simplify representation, through an artistic effort skillfully hidden in the poems, and difficult to perceive for the reader. Moreover, Barbu attributes to the poetical revolution brought about by Moreas a certain degree of necessity ("degree of fatality"), by means of which poetry integrates into the general evolutionary tendencies of modern spirituality, as sketched by Henri Bergson, in Creative evolution.
"The Colloquy of Monos and Una" (1841), to which the syntagm "Whispers from Monos, to Una!" from the "Vigil," makes direct allusion, in the next section of "The Vigil," identifies it as one of thr essential texts for the "poetical revolution" initiated by the American poet. In the form of a celestial dialogue, between two posthumous lovers, Monos and Una--whose names seem to symbolically express one's return to the primordial unity, a key concept in Eureka, Poe's cosmological treatise--, Una tells Monos about the processes of death, about the decay of one's conscience in the postmortem state, and the manner in which the "sixth sense." i.e. taste (Poe 1982: 449) as perception of absolute beauty operates, and through which people may cross the threshold of eternity. In the same text Poe reiterates that the poet, the only individual capable of understanding the divine harmony and beauty of the universe, has the arduous task of showing the people how to transcend their temporal condition, their earthly existence, now a "valley of tears," in order to find the path to integration with the divine, which only the metamorphosis of death makes possible.
Barbu seems to say that Edgar Poe intuited the essence of poetry--poetry exists as long as it responds to an aesthetic aim--, only that the operation of "purification" was not taken to its ultimate consequences, at least in "The Raven," or was wrongly directed in The Philosophy of Composition (cf. Jacobs 1969: 452). The theoretical and the practical solutions, whose primary data the American poets glimpses, yet does not further elaborate on, do not meet the exigencies of "absolute lyricism." Actually, his criticism is also directed at a whole literary tradition, especially (Neo)Romantic, at what he calls "sincere poetry, the inept insistence to write verse as one speaks, the banal rehabilitated, combined with sensibility" (Barbu 1984d: 169). Barbu rejects outright the formula of a sentimental poetry that maintains itself within the data of ordinary experience, as inadequate and unwanted. Instead, he pleads for a poetry that should edify in the mirror of the creative spirit. Hence, the urge addressed to the American poet, in the imaginary dialogue: "Break the hybrid of this non-equation that creates decay, cycle, and temporality." (Barbu 1984r: 214)
Writing poetry involves vigorous, conscious shaping of the amorphous data of one's experience(s), through a series of "bardic rituals," i.e. poetic operations; it is "also a work of volition and discrimination" (Barbu 1984h: 172). That is why Barbu strongly denounces the Surrealist error," which wrongly identifies isomorphism ("eloedric connection") between poetry and dream--a simple similarity of form--, with homorphism ("meriedric connection", where similarity involves real relations, through which one of terms (the dream) becomes the model for the other (poetry).
The paraphrase continues, as follows:
Know thyself, you single Eye, through the spirituality of this vision, through the whole deep and geometrical thought I have summoned you to! (Barbu 1984r: 214)
Gnothi seauton, precept inscribed in golden letters on the portico of the Delphi temple, which some attribute to Pythagoras, evoked in Barbu's call addressed to the American poet ("Know thyself") define poiesis as narcissistic search ("single eye") for absolute knowledge. To reach the Rimbaudean "fullness of the great dream" (Rimbaud 1975: 136) or, as Ion Barbu puts it, the "spirituality of vision," the poet's mind must detach itself of what itself constructs. The subject, which expresses itself in the work, is not the individual, but the spirit, which works to know itself, in what is creative. It is, in fact, consciousness in a continuous state of permanent vigil, always on the point of concretizing in a form, i.e. the poem, as Paul Valery notes in "Notes et digressions" (1919: 35-36).
To Poe, the gesture by which the poet (of genius) turns to himself has a slightly different meaning. Since the individual who expresses himself though the lyrical poem is himself an integrating part of the expansive divinity, by "questioning his own soul," the American writer notes in Eureka (Poe 1848: 143), he discerns in it "his identity with God" and His Divine Poem. In the profundities of his self, the poet discovers the synchronized movement of his own soul with the harmony of the cosmic spheres, and covets for the ultimate coalescence with "a Destiny more vast." (1848: 140)
For the Romanian author, the "efficient cause" of the work is the "pure self," the act of perception by which thought perceives itself in actu, in its own light. From this abyss, says Valery around this "faceless being, with no origin, which any endeavor to build a cosmos refers to" (Valery 1919: 31), the poet tentatively brings to light the seminal form, from which the intelligence will configure the poem. For all this, the poem is not, as it may look at first sight, a mirror turned to oneself yet, paradoxically, a speculum mundi. The author writes to free himself from himself, to be more apt for thinking, in "an attempt continuously repeated to rise himself to the intellectual mode of the lyre" (1984: 138). The poem, that is the movement of one's own thought searches for its substance in in the vacuity of the self; thus understood, poetry--means rising to "the wonder and the incandescence of the inner mode" (Barbu 1984j: 152). In the words of the Romanian author:
The Verse that we bow to proves to be difficult freedom: the world so purified that it would not reflect but the figure of our spirit.
A clear act of narcissism. (Barbu 1984j: 160)
The "shipwreck" in the abyss of one's own consciousness represents an obligatory condition for the act of creation: "The first thing that someone who wants to be a poet, "is to scrutinize his own knowledge, as a whole: he must search his soul, he must inspect it, test and learn it" says Arthur Rimbaud in a locus clasicus of modern poetry" (1975: 136). The value of such a gesture is underlined by Ion Barbu too, in an article entitled "Doua raspunsuri" / Two answers, of 1930, in which the Bergsonian nuance of the critique of literary production of "pure intellect" should not pass unnoticed:
It seems to me that the spirit is caught within itself: narcissism features a freer and more unexpected act than the awkward pyramid of syllogisms, in which the pure intellect solves itself, (apud Mincu 1990: 113)
The poem is but the imaginative configuration of this lacunar center--an experience about which Mallarme wrote these memorable lines, no doubt known to Barbu: "Yes, yes, I know: we are all only empty forms of matter--empty and yet sublime, because we have invented God and our own souls" (1956f: 87)--, it is an inner song, which the poet must allow to echo.
The poet however resists in locating in himself the final identity of his own spirit, because this would mean to accept stasis, there, where there is only movement. He simply transforms it into the "radiating" power of the text. That is why there is no unique meaning in poetry. Only the work exists, and the unending commentaries that it provokes to readers are an expression of its living character:
A poet endowed with some knowledge of mathematics can give not one, but a large number of explanations to some obscure poetry. Because of this, and because of this great freedom in the contraction of the explanation, selection should guide our preferences. In this case, we shall choose with a view to obtaining such spiritual inclusion that will be as wide as possible. (Barbu 1984i: 144)
For this reason, Barbu values mathematics, because in mathematics the identity of the subject completely dissipates in the pure structure of reasoning, rediscovering himself/herself in a more comprehensive spiritual identity:
In cosmic contemplation or in transcendental reverie, in the rational act of abstracting, spirits merge themselves. With this meaning, English poetry resembles science; it too develops within a homogenous, general framework. Yet, as a geometry theorem does not unveil anything from its becoming, from the qualitative complex called Euclid, so the laws of attraction too do not unveil anything about the troubled consciousness of Newton, the commentator of David's cornucopia; similarly, English poetry reflects from the variation of the human time only that lymphatic permanence, wrongly baptized "spirituality." (1984: 150)
Reflexive thinking, turned to itself, and the epiphany which illuminate a life's moment--"the whole deep and geometrical thought" (Barbu 1984r: 214), characterized by the profundity of perception and the discernment of a certain cosmic order--, are the necessary and sufficient conditions for generating the "effect" of the poem. Pure poetry offers a more direct vison of reality, because intuition transcends the closed frames by means of which intelligence appropriates the world, yet this is possible only after a long intellectual effort of synthesis that involves continuous self-detachment.
Like the enigmatical, solitary knight-errant from "Eldorado" (1849), chasing the phantom of everlasting Beauty, for which he sacrifices his youth and his enthusiasm--thus suggesting that the nature of the quest relies in heroic effort not in reaching the proposed objective, Edgar Poe, who made of "Beauty" "the province of the poem" --is, in Barbu's opinion, a great visionary poet, a pathfinder, whose seminal intuitions have decisively influenced the evolution of literature: "The amplitude of your harps sound and your prophetic intuitions, distinctive of an imaginative lineage, give true value to your journey up to the dome of the almighty beauty." (Barbu 1984r: 214)
Cognition as indwelling
In Eureka (1848), Poe identifies a single authentic path of "Consistency," i.e., Truth--the only one that gives "the key to the secret at which we aim" (1848: 53), namely aesthetic production. He thus acknowledges that art has the power of reconciling, in an original manner, and in a unique work, contradictory aspects, what he calls "the great idiosyncrasy in the Divine system of adaptation [...], the complete mutuality of adaptation" (Poe 1984d: 1315). In fact, his argument reiterates a fundamental idea formulated by Schelling, in The System of Transcendental Idealism (1800), where he talks of the capacity of poetical imagination to suppress "the infinite opposition [between the subjective and the objective] "in an aesthetic production," i.e., the finite object of art (1997: 228). For the German philosopher, aesthetic production begins with the feeling of a seemingly irreconcilable opposition, and ends "in the feeling of an infinite harmony" (1997: 287). Art is "supreme" because it opens for man the sacred realm where burns "in a single flame, that which in nature and in history is rent asunder, no less than in thought, must forever fly apart" (1997: 231). For Schelling, poetry is the model of sciences, which emerged out of it, poetry is also the "universal ocean" into which "so many individual streams," "flow back," through the mediation of a new "mythology." (1997: 232)
It is in this spirit that Poe assimilates poetical imagination with scientific imagination, in Eureka. The former has the power to project and expand the data of experience, through the conjectural cognition of the unknown. The latter, based on the continuity and regularity of processes, expands the analogies opened by poetical imagination. However, the American poet makes a clear distinction between "scientific truths" and "the only truth that participates in the understanding of the structure of the cosmos" (Richard 1978: 475). "Scientific knowledge," subject of a virulent satire, in the "Letter Corked in a Bottle" section of Eureka, through its rigorous exercise of logic, destroys the harmony of the world because, dividing it into isolated fragments, identifies only contingent, partial and schematic truths, which, then, it transforms into eternal truths, thus generating a confusion between the natural, eternal law and the temporal one. The science that Poe cherishes is the science that advances by intuitive jumps. As Kepler "guessed" the "three omniprevalent laws of revolution" (1848: 105), whose truth was later on demonstrated by the "mathematical Newton" (1848: 105), similarly, his cosmogony from Eureka is true, since he proves its truth by recourse to the Newtonian physics. Both the poet and the scientist intuitively start from empirical data on a journey into the unknown, assuming that a certain order prevails in the universe. The aesthetical solution is not however an unmediated intuition, but an objective "intellectual intuition" (Schelling 1997: 27), or, as the American poet puts it, an intuition born out of "deductions or inductions of which the processes were so shadowy as to have escaped his consciousness, eluded his reason, or bidden defiance to his capacity of expression" (Poe 1848: 20). Put differently, it is a fusion of art and science. Hence, "Poetry and Truth are one" (Poe 1848: 130). If, proceeding in this way, the poet, or the scientist, discovers a perfect consistency, they must take it for the absolute truth, and this truth can be then demonstrated mathematically (cf. Jacobs 1969: 416). The beauty thus discovered, refers to the whole design of the universe, in which every atom awaken to life by divine will, scatters in space "in furtherance of the ultimate design--that of the utmost possible Relation" (Jacobs 1969: 33), until the most complete heterogeneity that can be imagined is realized, while all its parts are still kept together, in a unitary system. We recognize in this formula the aesthetic criterion of unity in variety, characterized by "an absolute reciprocity of adaptation" (Jacobs 1969: 119), where cause and effect no longer distinguish from each other. Of all that exists, only the universe shows such a perfect organic relationship, in which every part correlates with all others, and all of them with the whole, according to the divine goal. The universe, says Poe, is a perfect "plot"; all the events of cosmic history spring from the "the bosom of the thesis --out of the heart of the ruling idea" (Jacobs 1969: 134), and each and every particle exists in accordance with a preconceived aim. The conclusion is more than obvious: "The plots of God are perfect. The Universe is a plot of God." (Poe 1848: 120)
However, this magnificent vision of the poet/ scientist, Poe continues, cannot be communicated to others directly, only its effect, the sentiment that accompanies the "reminiscence" of the undivided existence. In turn, the transmission of emotions is subjected to the laws that govern man's perception of his own organic life. That is why the ability of the artist to analyze, "to get full view of the machinery of his proposed effect" (Poe 1984b: 1363), through a conscious, deliberate processing of art's primary materials, is needed. Only in this way can he produce a work capable of stirring in others what he can really experience--the affect that accompanies the intuition of divine symmetry.
Veritable cognition, to which only the poetical sentiment can lead us, leads to the discovery of the harmony of the world, which, for Poe, represents the Supreme Truth. The avowed purpose of the metaphysical speculations that he conducts in Eureka is to reveal the order of the cosmos, in other words, its Truth. Eureka is "a book of truths," because it comprises, in its pages, the history of the genesis of the world and of the harmony that has resulted from it, but also a poetical act, by means of which he attempts to reconstruct the divine order thus uncovered. Poiesis is a visionary act by means of which the poet, endowed with the sixth sense of Beauty, searches the final revelation of the ultimate mystery, which he can arrive at, only in some ephemeral moments of exaltation.
The Barbian meditation in "The Vigil of Roderick Usher" seems to take the discussion from this point, but the Romanian poet develops his own argument in a slightly different manner from his Romantic predecessor: "Two have proved to be the paths of Consistency" (Barbu 1984r: 214215). The former (the latter is Science) "indwelling" -designates the direct manner of cognition of the Absolute in life (the divine, with Poe), here symbolized by the presence of the sea ("the rouged orbits of the seas"). Taking over an image from analytical geometry, Barbu represents it as a curve in continuous regression ("in asymptotic decline" (Barbu 1984r: 215), that evokes the irreversible decline of intuitive cognition in time. This Romantic theme insistently recurs in many of Edgar Poe's texts, from "Al Aaraaf" (1829) to "The Philosophy of Composition" (1846). However, Barbu does not simply revive in these lines a well-known Poesque motif, because, while engaging in an imaginary dialogue with the American poet, he remains however a man of his own times and speaks indirectly to his own contemporaries. The suggestion and the characteristic elegiac note could have come only from the philosopher of European modernism, Henri Bergson, who, in Creative evolution (1907), makes the following commentary:
Intuition is there, however, but vague and above all discontinuous. It is a lamp almost extinguished, which only glimmers now and then, for a few moments at most. But it glimmers wherever a vital interest is at stake. On our personality, on our liberty, on the place we occupy in the whole of nature, on our origin and perhaps also on our destiny, it throws a light feeble and vacillating, but which none the less pierces the darkness of the night in which the intellect leaves us. (1944: 91-92)
The solution to the deadlock of cognition, originally envisioned by Plato, in The Republic, Books 2-3, resides in the idea of poetry merging with science, which the French philosopher interprets as follows:
There is no reason, therefore, why a duration, and so a form of existence like our own, should not be attributed to the systems that science isolates, provided such systems are reintegrated into the Whole. (Bergson 1944: 14)
Later on in the text, his commentary becomes more specific:
Intelligence remains the luminous nucleus around which instinct, even enlarged and punned into intuition, forms only a vague nebulosity. But, in default of knowledge properly so called, reserved to pure intelligence, intuition may enable us to grasp what it is that intelligence fails to give us, and indicate the means of supplementing it. (Bergson 1944: 195; emphasis added)
That the direction of human cognition is not random, as it may seem--from poetry (intuition) to science (intellectual cognition)--, Henri Bergson also clarifies for us: "Thus is revealed the unity of the spiritual life. We recognize it only when we place ourselves in intuition in order to go from intuition to the intellect, for from the intellect we shall never pass to intuition" (1944: 291). The explanation is simple: consciousness cannot inscribe itself directly into matter, it must adapt to it. Intelligence (science) is the very expression of this adaption: "consciousness is essentially free; it is freedom itself; but it cannot pass through matter without settling on it, without adapting itself to it: this adaptation is what we call intellectuality; and the intellect, turning itself back toward active, that is to say free, consciousness, naturally makes it enter into the conceptual forms into which it is accustomed to see matter fit." (Bergson 1944: 182)
Elaborating on a suggestion from Poe's "MS Found in a Bottle (1982: 123), Ion Barbu launches, at the end of "The Vigil," an invitation to voyage ("Let us unlock these oceanic rooms"), a call to continue the adventure, along new coordinates, having as haven, the imaginary spaces ("setting off from your lands") discovered and explored by Poe, to plumb, with new means, the depths of life--"this ocean of life, in which we are immersed" as Bergson metaphorically identifies it in Creative evolution (Bergson 1944: 210)--and uncover new truths:
Beyond the western throne, fallen into the seas of Java, horrified at the South Pole, through the strident, transparent curtain of the dense perfected walls of the universe--in the ritual poverty of the most isolated fact, written in the vacuum of an aqualung--the porous, venerable vessel of Science prises this solidary sky open. And its sad sails bonds the bardic line of the Ushers to the foolish, jealous races from below; in these tarry signs (ravens turned into wreaths) whose advent here is the only curse of hell, ever accepted under skies--the full word: DISCOVERY. " (Barbu 1984r: 215; italics in the original)
The meanings of this fragment largely build around the symbolism of the ship ("the porous, venerable vessel of Science")--an image that subtly elaborates on a Poesque suggestion from "MS Found in a Bottle" (1982: 123)--, and of navigation, completed by that of verticality (this solidary sky, polar axis). When supposedly saying that "living is not necessary, but navigation is," Pompeius Magnus meant that a life lived for its own sake has no justification; only a life lived for the sake of finding out what exists beyond horizon, and remains inaccessible to immediate knowledge is worth living (Cirlot 2001: 294). This is, at least in part, the meaning intended by Barbu at the end of "The Vigil of Roderick Usher." However, the voyage that the poet invites his congener (and us, as readers) is not an odyssey, because there is no allusion to a possible return, in the text. Rather, the Barbian imaginary explorer, pushed by absolute imperatives, is condemned to wander forever on the ocean of life, searching for the shore that would close his peregrination. That is why only the direction of the voyage is fixed with some precision--"this solidary sky" (therefore forming a whole)--the transcendence, the absolute of knowledge, which is also the domain of "pure poetry," "beyond the western throne," the oceanic abyss, localized in the west, where the sun ends his journey across the sky and sets, "dies" (in order to rise again in the east)--that is the invisible realm beyond, the domain of darkness, which we can only imagine. The South Pole--along the north/south axis represents the nadir, i.e., the sublunary material world, which pure poetry rejects ("horrified at"). We also know that in Barbu's opinion,--however this is true of Poe too--, the poetical effort ("the most isolated fact"), no matter what its liminal point, ends in pure ideality, through the sacrifice of the temporal self, a suggestion that Poe's "MS Found in a Bottle" to which he alludes here, also contains (1982: 125-126). Edgar Poe reads the experience of the limit in a tragical key,--the hero dies, victim of this quest that gives meaning to his life, as the only testimony of his sublime adventure of knowledge. As in Mallarmean poetics, the illocutory subject completely disappears form the discourse--an idea to be found in the Barbian theory of impersonality in poetry too--, and leaves the text to speak for itself:
If the poem is to be pure, the poet's voice must be stilled and the initiative taken by the words themselves, which will be set in motion as they meet unequally in collision. And in an exchange of gleams they will flame out like some glittering swath. of fire sweeping over-precious stones, and thus replace the audible breathing in lyric poetry of old--replace the poet's own personal and passionate control of verse. (Mallarme 1956b: 40-41)
In Eureka, Edgar Poe's prose poem, the same adventure gains explicit cosmological valences: the annihilation, the dissipation of the superficial ego, and the recognition of the deep ego is symbolical of one's finding his unity with the universe, his identity with God, regaining, in other words, the original, yet now lost, essence. (1848: 138)
An act of pure narcissism
In the creative process, what gives meaning to the imaginary world is the poet, who, through an intense effort of self-reflection, divides himself, and gradually identifies a dynamic scheme, which then he strives to fit into an adequate symbolical frame. The difficulties that he confronts when engages in such a creative process, seem unsurmountable. (Barbu 1984k: 170)
To fully express the quintessence of this experience, to overcome all obstacles that stand in his way ("the strident, transparent curtain of the dense perfected walls of the universe"--an image that Barbu may have borrowed from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Power of Words" (1982g: 440)--, the poet must perform some necessary "rhapsodic rituals" --willed self-alienation, simplicity and conciseness of expression, or, as he puts it in his article on "Karl Friederich Gauss (1958)," "a minimum of blind formulas united with a maximum of visionary ideas" (1984: 248), which the poetical language should reach through repetitive distillations and crystallizations:
On another occasion, I talked about that group-cleaning, that crystallography of what is: immobile and taintless combustion--the verse. (1984: 140)
The poem, through its almost immaterial, crystal-like transparency mediates between the visible and the invisible, becomes therefore a hieroglyph of a deeper reality.
In the act of creation, the protean lacunar entity at the center of the poem (the deep self), through a process of "exhaustion" must open itself to others, and charge with their experience. "The poet," says Charles Baudelaire "Les Foules" / Crowds (1869), taking over an idea from a Poesque text,--"The Man of the Crowd,"
enjoys this incomparable privilege of able to be himself of someone else.[...] What men call love is a very small, restricted, feeble thing compared with this ineffable orgy, this divine prostitution of the soul giving itself entire, all it poetry and all its charity, to the unexpected as it comes along, to the stranger as he passes. (2008: 22)
This propensity, which can go as far as to obliterate one's own superficial self, so that the poet no longer recognizes himself in the specular image, "I is another" as Rimbaud (1975: 135) writes in his famous "Letter to Paul Demeny" (1871), does not get so dramatic tones, with Barbu. The poet of genius, ("the bardic line of the Ushers"), in voluntary exile among people, thus finds the internal distance and the necessary detachment to love them. On the other hand, this "love" overcomes the limits of his egocentrism, it is a vast and continuous opening, through which the Poet regains his communion with others. This could correspond to the moment when mankind, in the spiritual evolution sketched by Edgar Poe in Eureka integrate with the Divine Being--or, as Barbu puts it, with strict reference to art, when, "by deepening the individual mystery" (Barbu 1984d: 163), they discover what he calls "our ground of general identity" (Barbu 1984d: 163), a superior order, where the spirits of creators converse:
In the free certainty of homogenous lyricism, instructing of essential things, and entertaining with paradisiacal visons: in such lyricism, there is nothing of the Darwinian struggle of individual formulas. One voice continues another, as one truth grafts upon another, and sets up a movement, in a century: L hymne des coeurs spirituels (1984: 139; French in the original)
To the extent he penetrates the mysteries of cognition, the poet finds answers to ever more comprehensive metaphysical problems, his poetry turns into a "spirituality of vision," as the inspired notes in a review on the poetry of Lucian Blaga, and taking over a line from the latter, "high and sacred Geometry" seem to show. (Barbu 1984h: 171)
The fundamental problem, for someone whose ambition is to write "a poetry of experience and transfiguration" (Barbu 1984k: 170), is how to transpose the dynamic inner reality thus discovered into words, to identify the "form" that will bridge the abyss that separates his vision from its linguistic expression--how "to define the indefinable" as Edgar Poe puts it (Poe 1982d: 444). The obstacles seem insurmountable, yet, the poet, to the extent he remains true to his call, must attempt to overcome them:
For all this, the Pythagorean ecstasy must be manifested. The sky of crystals transposed. The problem of distributing some qualitative light rises, and remains almost insoluble. How will you realize the immanent, how will you remove the mechanical? (Barbu 1984h: 171)
"How would you remove the mechanical" ? The Barbian formula subtly evokes the celebrated Bergsonian definition of the comic in Laughter (1900): "The mechanical encrusted on the living" (1911: 37), invites us to share his interpretation of the role of language in the formation of our vision of the world. The Barbian "mechanical" corresponds to the repetitive that in Bergson's view defines scientific cognition of reality. Removing it involves "break with scientific habits which are adapted to the fundamental requirements of thought, we must do violence to the mind, go counter to the natural bent of the intellect" (Bergson 1944: 35). Modelled upon the necessities of a sensus communis, language has turned into a kind of "veil" that places, between us and the world, "the utilitarian symbols, the conventional and socially accepted generalities, in short, everything that veils reality from us, in order to bring us face to face with reality itself" (Bergson 1911: 157). Like a distorting mirror, its conventionality deforms, the pure individualizing perception that art has always aimed at:
In short, we do not see the actual things themselves; in most cases we confine ourselves to reading the labels affixed to them. This tendency, the result of need, has become even more pronounced under the influence of speech; for words--with the exception of proper nouns--all denote genera. The word, which only takes note of the most ordinary function and commonplace aspect of the thing, intervenes between it and ourselves, and would conceal its form from our eyes, were that form not already masked beneath the necessities that brought the word into existence. Not only external objects, but even our own mental states, are screened from us in their inmost, their personal aspect, in the original life they possess. When we feel love or hatred, when we are gay or sad, is it really the feeling itself that reaches our consciousness with those innumerable fleeting shades of meaning and deep resounding echoes that make it something altogether our own? We should all, were it so, be novelists or poets or musicians. Mostly, however, we perceive nothing but the outward display of our mental state. We catch only the impersonal aspect of our feelings, that aspect which speech has set down once for all because it is almost the same, in the same conditions, for all men. Thus, even in our own individual, individuality escapes our ken. We move amidst generalities and symbols, as within a tilt-yard in which our force is effectively pitted against other forces; and fascinated by action, tempted by it, for our own good, on to the field it has selected, we live in a zone midway between things and ourselves, externally to things, externally also to ourselves. (1911: 153-154)
If we could free ourselves from the conventions that we always so blindly follow, Bergson continues:
Were this detachment complete, did the soul no longer cleave to action by any of its perceptions, it would be the soul of an artist such as the world has never yet seen. It would excel alike in every art at the same time; or rather, it would fuse them all into one. It would perceive all things in their native purity: the forms, colours, sounds of the physical world as well as the subtlest movements of the inner life. (Bergson 1911:154-55)
The active symbolism of the word, that "immaculate language" that Mallarme (1956: 9) dreamt of, by means of which we could act directly on nature, like the mythical Orpheus, controlling not only the visible but also the invisible energies of the world and, by this, to re-establish their original union. This could be regained, says Bergson, only by "breaking the frames of language" (Bergson 1960: 134), by radically modifying the conventions that limit it:
So art, whether it be painting or sculpture, poetry or music, has no other object than to brush aside the utilitarian symbols, the conventional and socially accepted generalities, in short, everything that veils reality from us, in order to bring us face to face with reality itself. It is from a misunderstanding on this point that the dispute between realism and idealism in art has arisen. Art is certainly only a more direct vision of reality. But this purity of perception implies a break with utilitarian convention, an innate and specially localised disinterestedness of sense or consciousness, in short, a certain immateriality of life, which is what has always been called idealism. So that we might say, without in any way playing upon the meaning of the words, that realism is in the work when idealism is in the soul, and that it is only through ideality that we can resume contact with reality. (Bergson 1911: 157)
The following Barbian thoughts seem to directly echo these observations:
Concepts (abstractions of some direct date of experience) make up the reality of pure mathematics. Therefore, the realistic treatment of this secondary cogital nature is not the result of algorithmic developments (calculi), but of the local combination of axioms. Anything that interposes between the reasoning subject and the "datum" of notions troubles their reflection in spirit. (1984c: 271-272)
Although the remarks of the Romanian poet refer to the condition of the scientific work, they could easily be extrapolated to the domain of art, in particular to "absolute lyricism."
Only through poiesis--born out of the dialectical relation (the alliance) of poetry and science--, can the poet get out of his aristocratic isolation and find his way to the "crowds" ("the foolish, jealous races from below"). The written words ("these tarry signs") which, in their ordinary determinations, belong to the sublunary world ("hell"), once reinvested with orphic powers ("complete"), miraculously change ("ravens turned into wreaths") into epiphany. ("DISCOVERY')
This way, Barbu confirms the magical power of poetry to call into existence new things. The power of words extends beyond the creation of a poem, toward the creation of a world, endowed with meaning, which thus becomes "real" for us. We now understand more exactly, what the Romanian poet meant to say when he denounced the Poesque poetical formula as "non-equation." Realized through a skillful rhetorical construction, the Poesque poem (i.e. "The Raven") is but a simulacrum that can only occasionally offer an image of the noumenon. Actually, Poe says that human creation is but secondary creation, i.e., a combination of existing elements, not creation in the ontological sense of the term. This idea appears in various forms in a number of Poesque texts; we quote only one for illustration, his review to "Alciphron" by Thomas Moore (1840): "The mind of man can imagine nothing which has not really existed" (1984: 334). The writing of the poem does not have, for Poe, the value of phenomenon that leads to "authentic" discoveries (cf. Jacobs 1969: 434). Skeptical about the power of communication of the symbol, which partially explains Poe's reticence to the creative method of Nathaniel Hawthorne, from the second review to the latter's Twice-Told Tales, May 1842 (1984: 505-540), he believes that the "ideal" can only be lived, felt, however not seen. Ion Barbu, like Mallarme, or Rimbaud, however yearns for this thing only: to accede, by means of the Verb, to the Ultimate Reality.
We are faced here with two hypostases of the same Orphic model. Both Poe and Barbu know that only he, the Poet, can go to the underworld and bring from there its light, harmony, and order, and give them a new life. The Poesque Orpheus descends to the center of darkness and is allowed to take Truth (Eurydice) with him, on condition that he must turns his look when he reaches that place Instead, Barbu's Orpheus forgets, out of necessity, this interdiction, because he knows he has to glance at the hidden reality. Therefore, he turns his eye to Eurydice and, seemingly, he fails in his endeavor. Yet, if he did not do this, he would not be faithful to the inner force that impels him to go there, and which does not claim Eurydice in her ordinary truth, but in the nocturnal obscurity, seen from a distance that excludes any intimacy (cf. Blanchot 1982: 171-172). In Barbu's view, the Poe's creation (except for some fortunate cases) is not true cognition, since its theoretical principles that shape it, prove insufficient. They only indicate a direction and a possible path toward true cognition.
The poem, Ion Barbu believes, emerges from the emotion of discovering a higher Truth, through the poet's conscious reflection on the "vacuity" at the center of his being, a reflection however deprived of any teleological meaning (here the Romanian poet separates from Poe). Let us remind: in The Philosophy of Composition, the American poet claims, "the work [The Raven] proceeded, step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem" (1984g: 14-15). Although he accepts the rationality of the creative process, the Romanian poet rejects, in principle, Poe's rigorous determinism, as well as his finalism. These belong to a mechanistic vision of the world, and is implicitly, alien to art.
Life is unceasingly renewed creation; according to Bergson, its continuity manifests as tendencies, emerging from an original impulse, yet in no case does it involve the fulfillment of a plan (cf. Bergson 1944: 114-115). It would as absurd to imagine that work of art works otherwise. The profound conditioning of the actor of artistic creation, showing obvious analogies with life and the universe--the last aspect constitutes the essence of Poe's demonstration in Eureka--, is suggestively captured by Paul Valery an emblematic figure of the new poetry, whose aesthetical thinking, itself owing much to the author of the Poetical Principle, Ion Barbu praised in the highest degree (Barbu 1984g: 139):
The artist lives in the privacy of his arbitrary, and pending on its necessity. At every moment, he asks for it; he obtains it from the most unpredictable or insignificant circumstances, and there is no proportion, no uniformity of relation between the size of the effect and the importance of the cause. He expects a precise answer (because it must engender an act to be performed) to an essentially incomplete question: he desires the effect that will produce, in him, only what he could produce. (1968: 1309)
The poem, which, in its materiality, is but a relation of elements, celebrates the mystery of the form that emerges from it; it is not the expression of a preconceived idea, but the abstract play of form itself. Language is then called to illuminate and guide readers to the discovery of significant relations. To increase the precision of notation, the poet has to jettison the expressiveness of words. Art is not subject to any finality, but its own. Only in this way can the poem configure, in a dynamical form, the search for an answer.
Henri Bergson too gives a wider understating to the idea of creation. Life in time, says he, is possible, at the price of reducing the potential richness and virtualities of consciousness, due to the continuous necessities imposed by action and selection:
Each of us, glancing back over his history, will find that his child-personality, though indivisible, united in itself divers persons, which could remain blended just because they were in their nascent state: this indecision, so charged with promise, is one of the greatest charms of childhood. But these interwoven personalities become incompatible in course of growth, and, as each of us can live but one life, a choice must perforce be made. We choose in reality without ceasing; without ceasing, also, we abandon many things. The route we pursue in time is strewn with the remains of all that we began to be, of all that we might have become. But nature, which has at command an incalculable number of lives, is in no wise bound to make such sacrifices. She preserves the different tendencies that have bifurcated in their growth. (Bergson 1944: 111)
Artists with great power of invention, by means of their imagination, can save from oblivion a part of the choices that most of us discard and can recuperate some of the original virtualities of intuition. Their creations then appear as realizations, possibilities that have been excluded from life: the "debris" of what they could have become.
Ion Barbu long meditated on this theme, and a speech on Arthur Rimbaud, delivered seventeen years after the publication of "Joc secund" / Second Game ascertains that, although the poet had ceased to listen to the call of the muse of poetry, his interest in it was still alive. The speech seems to resume the thread of his reflections on the nature of poetical cognition and its relation to science, from where he had left it, in 1930, in the "Vigil of Roderick Usher," and further develops some of its ideas.
Arthur Rimbaud is an iconic image for the new poetry. Barbu ranks him not as the greatest, but simply as the most unusual, (Barbu 1984n: 183). We should not forget that it is individuality that he cherishes most: "Folklore or violently individual poetry" (1984: 181). Investigating the artistic method of the French poet, Barbu concludes that, in his case, we are faced with "a sort of scientist, a methodist of delirium" that "expands the domain of literature" by appropriating "the methods and procedures of science" for it (1984: 191). The reason for such a deep appreciation lies in the fact that
[h]e [Rimbaud] goes beyond the descriptive stage and aims at some generality, and strong validity, which, like the law governing physical phenomena, and allows us to take possession of the world of expression. (1984: 191)
The formula reminds us of Romanian author's previous positionings, which suggests, once more, that whenever speaking of a congener, Ion Barbu actually pleads pro causa sua.
Obliterating the external world, Rimbaud turns to the profundities of his own being, that is why Ion Barbu talks of his "infra-realism," a term he constructed on the Bergsonian model (see Bergson 1944: 355, 391) an "infra-realism that scrutinizes the bases of perception in order to deduce its laws si.e., principles]." The devices used by the French poet largely derive from the special nature of reference in his poetry, which Barbu inspiredly circumscribes as follows:
It is the uncreated cosmic: in other words, embryonic existences, germs, nubile landscapes, and limbos. By choosing, as domain of his poetical operations, the critical points of a nature completed by the adjunction of some idealized existences, Rimbaud, once more, behaves like a man of science, because the scientist--the mathematician in particular--in his subtlest researches, also proceeds by adding transcendental quantities to the given. What are these "limbos," these "auroras that change these forests" these "flowers of water as tumblers," if not the real expanded to something that is more significant, through the absorption of imaginary states or beings? In the unfinished character of theses existences, we detect the trace of a scholarly method. In a similar manner, the geometer, in his investigations, instinctively focuses on the singular points of particular curbs, in order to extract truths that instruct on the norm. (Barbu 1984n: 186-187)
Nor should the Bergsonian tonality of the following enouncement pass unnoticed: "the extension of the real towards something more significant, through the absorption of imaginary states and beings," by means of which Ion Barbu reformulates another statement from 1920 (Barbu 1976: 28-29), with the difference that now the function of the literary creation is more precisely defined--to institute a new world, which adds to the existing one, a world endowed with sense, in other words, human.
Ion Barbu poses the problem of the poetical language in rather familiar terms, with new nuances that remind of both Poe and Bergson:
However, in order to express these modes of uncreated nature, ordinary language seems to be too organized; Rimbaud strives to impoverish it, to simplify it too few functions of discourse. People often speak of Rimbaud's naive, "angelic" idiom, of his rambling sound, and of his rhythms borrowed from child's play. In fact, his idiom and prosody are deducted by abstracting: a conscious elaboration, with a view to note the ineffable. (Barbu 1984n: 186)
For the demonstration we have attempted to make in these pages, the following paragraph seems to be of prime importance, because in the end Ion Barbu connects the French poet to Edgar Poe:
The same gift, we should say, the same visionary science unveils in the super eminent pieces of the Illuminations: "Genius". It announces the reign of Supreme Beauty or Supreme Good, but a harsher principle: the Truth "crossed by further violence" the instauration of an immediate mode of thinking, which transcends creeping science and becomes Consistence.
This is also the conclusion of Eureka by Edgar Poe. (Barbu 1984n:188)
We should remark here that, for Ion Barbu, the domain if poetry is not Beauty, but Truth. The permutation of terms is not gratuitous play, as it may look at first sight. It marks a major change in the poetic method, or, as the Romanian author says, "an immediate mode of thinking" (which is in fact intuition and analysis, in a dialectical relation, as Poe had anticipated), which overcomes the status of "ancillary science." In the light of evolutions in cosmology (Einstein's theory of relativity), or in the physics of elementary particles (Poincare), the new mode of cognition places itself in the interstitial space of what we ordinarily call sciences. One aspect is present both in the argument of Edgar Poe, in Eureka, and of Ion Barbu--the visionary quality.
Barbu has no doubts that the author of The Illuminations does "science", the more so as he seems to proceed like an authentic scientist: "Once master of his method, Rimbaud--like a scientist--aims at extrapolating the acquired experimental truths. His aim is to predict and even to revise the historical process" (Barbu 1984n: 186), in other words, to generalize them and to verify their validity: "What could the famous sonnet of the "Vowels" be, but an ecstatic revision of the enormous days of creation?" (Barbu 1984n: 186) More instructive than the reading Barbu makes of the sonnet, or the analogies he establishes between Rimbaud's text and Saint John's Apocalypse, are the following observations on the Rimbaudean method, ending on a clear Bergsonian note:
Far from being the application of some doubtful truth of exceptional psychology, the sonnet The Vowels illustrates Rimbaud's particular method; like the astronomer, who quantitatively realizes some eclipse or some gone cosmic catastrophe--he makes us watch the initial spasm of our world. With this difference, namely Rimbaud carries a qualitative research. (Barbu 1984n: 188; emphasis added)
The Rimbaudean sonnet is not an application of some exceptional psychology, i.e. colored audition (allusion to the theory on verbal instrumentalism of Rene Ghil as exposed in Traite du verbe (1886) and De laPoesie scientifique (1909), extremely popular in the age, but a scientific inquiry of a new type. Taking over the dramatic situation imagined by Poe in Eureka, Barbu underlines the opposition between quantitative (the Astronomer) and qualitative (the Poet), terms that bring us back to Henri Bergson once more (Bergson 1960: 144-145). The astronomer only reconstructs something already done: his projection is based on numerical calculus, observation, reasoning, and repetition. Instead, the poet aims at an integrating understanding of phenomena, his attention focuses on the qualities of objects, which are only moments in the flux of becoming, his projection looks forward, not backward. Through the huge power of his imagination, says Ion Barbu, the French poet "allows us to watch the initial spasm of our world" (Barbu 1984n: 187), a phenomenon without history, with no specific location, or whose location is the text and our minds only. This way, Rimbaud's poetry belongs to a unique category of works:
In conclusion, we must admit that Rimbaud's last works raise problems, which exceed the domain of art and may confuse readers of literature; similarly, the new physics of Poincare or Einstein have confused physicists. Rather, relativity seems to be a chapter of superior geometry than one of experimental physics.
The Illuminations may demand scientific spirit, more than pure lyricism. Consequently, with modesty and the concentration due to contemplated Truths, we must gather some essential lessons from them. (Barbu 1984n:188)
Could one call such an approach scientific? Yes, on condition we understand by science, together with Paul Valery "all the receipts and processes that always succeed" (as quoted by Foarta 1980: 6). Ion Barbu, a poet with an acute sense of the propriety of expression could not have deluded himself. Obviously, the meaning that he attaches to the term does not fit into the notion of science we are familiar with. It is not, as one may expect, a kind of mathesis universalis, the hypothetical universal science molded by Leibniz and Descartes, an expression of their desire to create a language more exact than any natural language. The "science" that he envisages is not a science of substance, rather, integrating knowledge, capable of capturing the essential relations of man with the universe, in a unitary vision, or, as Heidegger aptly calls it, "a topology of being" (1975:12). It is a dynamical and genetic metaphysics that explores a mundus imaginalis, a mesocosmos, which, the "visionary" poet, or scientist, can accede to through initiated paths only, by practicing an active imagination.
Born out of an attentive, even idiosyncratic reading of Edgar Poe's literary production and aesthetics, whose "climate" is so familiar to the Romanian author, that he can claim property on some of its elements, and using props borrowed from divers Poesque texts, "The Vigil of Roderick Usher" represents a daring attempt to recuperate Poe's philosophy of creation, in order to establish a direct relation to it. However, by sketching the vision of a writer to whom he is linked by a strong "chemical affinity," and investing it with qualities of his own, the Romanian author paints himself and presents his own vision. Ion Barbu remodels the Poesque meanings in such a way as to produce new meanings, in harmony with a literary credo, consciously assumed, which places him among the coryphaeuses of "absolute lyricism."
The barbian text seems to be a synopsis of previous elaborations; it also seems to pave the way for the more explicit constructions that followed. The reading between parallel mirrors of the texts has revealed the presence, in the deepest stratum of Barbu's thinking--, its formatting matrix--, of the Platonic theory of form. Out of this block of ancient marble, the Romanian artist carved his own vision, informed first all by his reading of Poe. What seems to gives unity to Ion Barbu's conception of is the assimilation of Bergsonian metaphysics, whose essential dualism spirit-matter completes and integrates naturally the ancient philosophical system that followed, yet similarly structured. We are faced with a theoretical construction whose fundamental aspects Barbu seems to have discovered early, and which he never abandoned, a construction of sublime plasticity that modulates easily on the data of experience, but of remarkable structural unity. Except for some subtle nuances, the text does not seem bring into discussion any essentially new ideas; instead, its reading compensates by the quality of its expression, the memorability of the formulas, of its images and symbols. "The Vigil" is a crystal processed at the incandescence of the highest poetical thinking. For both Poe and Barbu, the reality of the imagination, as a manifestation of the artist's creative energies, is of maximum importance, because, in the space created by it, they could act free of any constraints, and recover the vital energy of life.
Written only a few months after the publication of Joc secund / Secondary Game (1930), "The Vigil of Roderick Usher" closed, from a theoretical viewpoint, an almost miraculous decade of literary activity, deliberately placed under the sign of "absolute lyricism." Ion Barbu, who sincerely believed that "faire difficilement des vers faciles" never meant concocting digestible lines, but the rare adventure of a truly essential line" (Barbu 1984k: 170), must have reached, at that moment, the conclusion that everything had been said and that "writing new lines would be a waste of time." (Barbu 1984e: 148)
In a world that has lost its own image--Imago mundi nova, imago nulla (Buber,  2004: 159), yet which he still hopes to recover--the Vincian dream--, Ion Barbu firmly believes that poetry can make an essential contribution. Of the "truth" that promised to come out, the Romanian poet "reserved to himself the translation."
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