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This item is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

Letters from T.J.G. Harris


I ask the following questions, not to put Seija Paddon (Letters, P·N·R 85) on the spot, but out of genuine interest, and should be grateful for an answer to at least some of them:

In what way is the world today 'fragmented'? How do we know it is fragmented? Is there any possibility of comprehending this fragmentation, and if not, how can we speak of it? Is this fragmentation a good or bad thing? Should we acquiesce in this fragmentation, or seek to further or remedy it? Is it the true task of the arts merely to reflect this fragmentation? Or should the arts seek to comprehend it? (Merely reflecting a situation does not seem to be a very worthy or worthwhile task.) What concepts does 'the postmodern vein' 'profess to recognize'? If all is fragmented, how can there be concepts at all? Is the idea of a 'fragmented world' a concept? If it is not, what is it? Assuming it is a concept, on what grounds would one profess to recognize it and on what grounds might one profess not to recognize it? And assuming it is a concept, does it help or hinder us from understanding our situation? In what ways does Seija Paddon's belief that the world is fragmented affect her in her perceptions and thoughts, and in her personal life and relations with other people? (This last question is not in any way at all meant to be bullying or discourteous: the genuine fragmentation of an individual's world is apparent in certain poems by Holderlin, Clare and Gurney, and it is clearly a harrowing experience one wouldn't wish on anybody; I did not get the impression from Seija Paddon's letter that she has personally experienced the fragmentation of her world, and therefore wonder how she reconciles her belief that the world is fragmented with her personal experience, which, I suggest, may belie her belief.) Again, just as fragments are recognizable because of the existence of wholes, so discontinuities are recognizable because of the existence of continuities: is not an emphasis on discontinuities, at the expense of continuities, a falsification of reality, just as an emphasis solely on continuities would be?

Is not form inseparably part of content in the work of any good poet, in all times? The physicist David Bohm has demonstrated how the intentions and assumptions of scientists are implicated in the theories they create and are therefore relevant to the understanding of these theories: is the same untrue of the arts, and if so, why? When Seija Paddon speaks of 'the elementary distinction between the poet and the textual subject of a poetic discourse' and of Mr Lomas's 'Disney-landish search for the autonomous, authoritative intentions of poets', is she asserting that a poet's intentions are totally irrelevant to an understanding of his work? Has she really thought about the problem, or is she merely parroting a post-modern cliche? Mr Lomas did not seem to me to be searching for intentions that were 'autonomous' and therefore presumably independent of the poems, but concerned with showing how certain intentions were implicated in the poems, and also with drawing out and judging certain implications of the poems. Finally, how something means is necessarily implicated in what it means, or one might say that the how and the what of something's meaning exist in a creative tension in interesting work. To pay attention principally to the how is surely no more valid than concentrating on the what and supposing that poems can be reduced to prose paraphrases?

Hino-shi, Japan

This item is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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