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This article is taken from PN Review 168, Volume 32 Number 4, March - April 2006.

An Errant Retrospect Christopher Middleton

There is a poetry so constituted as to procure a knowledge unlike any of the varieties usually associated with reasoning. This kind of poetry springs from a culturally specific aesthetic impulse and it proposes a body of knowledge at once conjectural and secret - a gnosis. Not that the wording just happens, unprompted, out of the blue; but unlike some 'verse' it is not devised; if conative at all, it is at most quite nebulously so. Even if poems in this conjectural mode have a distinct plot or complex argument, the aesthetic radicles of an imagination giving life to the text thwart reductive attempts to convert (translate) the signifiers into otherwise intelligible signifieds. The phrasing as such invites conceptualisation only to elude and unsettle it.

The poem proposes the Imaginary, perhaps not so much as an object or means of knowledge, but as a luminous paradigm for a whole attitude to life, for construing reality. Whereas directed modes of thinking do reflect and grapple with the givens of experience, the poetry of conjectural gnosis is a counter-mundane and transforming act of an imagination ultra-alert to the athletics of language (athlos = contest). It is still conceivable that ancient esoteric 'wisdom' systems were poems in this sense: labyrinthine conjectural fictions that explored language along with objective horizons, and so muscled the Imaginary against the world. An absurd coherence of the Imaginary contradicted also randomising tendencies of the spoken word. I have in ...

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