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Journal, Day Two

By Terrance Hayes

First off, sorry about that long ass blog yesterday. Performance Anxiety. I plan to write less and less each day. Maybe just my name by the end of the week.

I jerked upright in bed somewhere around 6 a.m. today and blurted: “Chuck Norris!” to an empty room in an empty house. Maybe I thought someone was lurking about. All day I’ve been troubling myself with why it was Chuck Norris (and not Bruce Lee or Jim Kelly). He’s a Republican, I think. And with each year more and more strange looking. An image of Chuck Norris decapitating (dechoppitating?) a bad guy’s head is among my earliest memories of drive-in movie nights with my parents. I assume my parents took me with them to see such things because they thought I’d forget them. They were partly right. I only remembered enough to constitute occasional nightmares; enough to constitute a world- view that is mostly dream. Do you too believe surrealism is often more real than realism? What was Plato thinking to distrust “reality” in the hands of artists?

I ask because I bought Anne Carson’s Economy of the Unlost: Reading Simonides of Ceos with Paul Celan (Princeton University Press, 1999) along with me to Lewisburg. It’s a terrific book. A mix of classics, history lesson, and philosophy, which I realize describes lots of her work. She shows us how poems are the most polymorphous/polytypic of literary forms: they can be or blend the techniques of journalism, fiction, theatre, cinema, manuals, on and on. (Where are the science fiction poems: Automatons, cone-shaped rockets, women with three eyes and men with none?). In a section called APATE (the art of deception) she says Plato “deplored poetry all the way back to Homer, [because] it cut words free from any obligation to reality.” This may be a simplified translation of Plato (simplified by my hands not Caron’s, no doubt), but I’m drawn to questions of reality versus deception in art. Elsewhere in the chapter she says Gorgias, the sophist, believed the word that tricks you is more just than the word that does not. “Teachers like Gorgias and Protagoras alleged that the proper activity of words is not to describe but to deceive.”

I said as an aside yesterday that there is a relationship between craft and function. A few questions: Does the political poet place function beside craft, if not before it? Is poetry directly engaged in political discourse deceptive? Are poems about personal subjects (family, gardens, sunsets) “benevolent” deceptions? Baldwin said something like art is that which reveals the questions hidden by the answers, so I figured I’d just ask, not attempt to answer. (Can a question deceive?) I want to believe it’s only “deception” when the artist lacks morality. Is all true/great/enduring art moral art? You ask “What do I mean by morality?” and I ask “What does Plato mean by “Reality?” Is Reality (which is not the same thing as Science) more subjective than Morality (which is not the same thing as Religion)? These are questions worth wrestling with—maybe just outside the door of poetry.

Really, reading Anne Carson (and this writer Rebecca Solnit. Check out Wanderlust and A Field Guide to Getting Lost), I am overcome with the wish to weave such questions into the fabric of a poem. Poems can hold anything. I also want to poke Plato in the eye and cut the imagination free of any obligations to reality. Hell, reality makes me want to do it! And yet, I know catchphrases like “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” “War on Terror,” “Commander and Chief,” “Home of the Free” magnify the problems with “cutting words free.” Are politicians the poets Plato was thinking of? The word that tricks you is not always just, Gorgias. Language is deceptive, yes. It is only occasionally a Deception. Here’s Stephen Colbert twisting the twisted in on itself at a Knox College commencement address. A deceptive deception:

And when you enter the workforce, you will find competition from those crossing our all-too-porous borders. Now I know you’re all going to say, “Stephen, Stephen, immigrants built America.” Yes, but here’s the thing—it’s built now. I think it was finished in the mid-‘70s sometime. At this point it’s a touch-up and repair job. But thankfully Congress is acting and soon English will be the official language of America. Because if we surrender the national anthem to Spanish, the next thing you know, they’ll be translating the Bible. God wrote it in English for a reason! So it could be taught in our public schools.

So we must build walls. A wall obviously across the entire southern border. That’s the answer. That may not be enough—maybe a moat in front of it, or a fire-pit. Maybe a flaming moat, filled with fire-proof crocodiles. And we should probably wall off the northern border as well. Keep those Canadians with their socialized medicine and their skunky beer out. And because immigrants can swim, we’ll probably want to wall off the coasts as well. And while we’re at it, we need to put up a dome, in case they have catapults. And we’ll punch some holes in it so we can breathe. Breathe free. It’s time for illegal immigrants to go—right after they finish building those walls. Yes, yes, I agree with me.

I’m out like Chuck Norris.

Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, June 6th, 2006 by Terrance Hayes.