Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale

The unspoken condition we’re trying to fulfill here is the delivering of a historical account that would be applicable to all intelligent beings. That is, we’re trying to avoid anything that would merely be technically interesting, ie, such as economics, which concerns the manipulation of specific behaviors — which means we are avoiding, for the most part, usefulness or pragmatism, but that isn’t because we’re trying to be cool. At the same time we are avoiding simply claiming that we are barbaric or prehistoric, we are reading as usual… reading as usual, but we always have an eye out for maintaining a general historical significance.

In the time since the last entry (“The Structure of the subconsciousness”) — I mean, I think it’s still 100% relevant for me — but I think that what sticks out for me is this notion of original pain that has surprisingly gone unacknowledged. We pointed out that “A Review of Keats’s Hyperion Poems” in fact, predictably, made no reference to “The Danger or Reading”, even though it seemed to be confronting the problem laid out there, that sense of the unreadable. The general account we want to give here consists of a moving towards and then away from this moment of insight, so that this moment forms the center point or anchor of cultural memory. But this moment itself is only a solution to an every earlier moment, which is the sense of pain, which is the “seizing” of consciousness. (Which we identified with instinct, memory, and stimulus blocking.) Conrad has a great words for this, “culmination” — (misquoted) “My meeting with Kurtz was the culmination of my experience and seemed to shed some kind of light on everything”.

All these thoughts relate readily to Ode to a Nightingale — well, indeed, since they are our general theory of the world they would relate to all poems — but that would involve sort of “reading between poems” and establishing some ordering of poems, as we did in Hyperion — but with Nightingale these issues are explicit.

… there is a process I just realized must exist, which is “selection”. The “key” or the insight is part of the way in which we select which disruptions are interesting out of the totality of life’s stimuli that bypass consciousness. And furthermore, consider that logic and thinking are very low activities — if (and this is the very first principle of philosophy) we never have access to the world as such, then we have access to it via thinking (ie, as opposed to “perception”). Note that this first principle does not merely mean some mechanical filter, as we tend to think — we don’t realize the radicality of this principle until later, but it places a limit on what we can say scientifically about our experience, since we are not merely mechanical aesthetic machines, our response to the world and how we perceive it must be called thinking. Corollary — that thinking, philosophy, and the subconscious are concomitant — ie, there is no unphilosophical (eg, animals) — “the myth of the unphilosophical”. To live intelligently is to think (ie, as opposed to some precise activity involving concepts, writings, ideas, etc.).

What this means is that this insight also rewrites history, it definitely readjusts even the past so that it is seen as leading up to it.

There is much in Nightingale that supports our theory, starting with the overall melancholic tone of forgetting but wishing to remember — this entire poem looks back on a moment of insight which must be lost — cf, Keats’s “Beauty must die” — ie, I merely want to emphasize here that there is sort of a circular process here, of remembrance, towards and away. We can also, certainly, name moments when Keats is before this insight, anticipating it’s arrival. The effort here, however, is a historical account that would understand the link between selectivity, stability, and specificity here, in this account of the “portal” or threshold.

The most striking moment in the poem is probably the final stanza, “forlorn”. Actually, the last two stanzas are both really good:

VII.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown;
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

VIII.
Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! The fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music: — Do I wake or sleep?

The difference between “vision” or “dream” is quite interesting, it seems to open the question between seeing, thinking, and memory. But the dramatization here is the sudden re-encounter with oneself in the depths of one’s fantasy, which has the effect of shocking oneself out of this loop. The image is quite interesting, a man dreaming his a butterfly, who dreams he is a man — who suddenly experiences this shock of identity or recognition. The moment occurs when Keats encounters this figure, oddly enough, of the “casement” — a window — or rather, a window that opens like a door, a door-window, related also to “case”, container, frame. The suggestion here seems to be the recognition that the nightingale doesn’t so much transport one to distant lands, as transport one to a window where one looks out on distant lands — foreign windows.

TBC:
1) What’s the difference between vision and dream, are they related in the man / butterfly sense?
2) Keats here describes a moment of shock, where one seems to see the portal itself. But the portal is merely a culmination, and not a phenomenological experience — the shock is the shock of return. What causes this moment of recognition, of idenity (isomorphism) between Keats and the figure in his layered dreams?

 

 

 

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