Poetry News

'Art comes not from on high but from Hell': Joyelle McSweeney on Where Art Is Going

By Harriet Staff
Hieronymus Bosch, Temptation of St. Anthony

Today, the Fanzine published Joyelle McSweeney's "The Toxic and the Lyric," the first essay in a new series that will cover "the toxic and the lyric; the political and the infernal; hearing and Hell; damaged bodies and speaking plants; the virtual and the botanical; ornament and parasites; etc. Canonicals and contemporaries will be discussed; think of it as a poison garden, a small shady plot in the Necropastoral, full of grafts and oddities, maudits and fleurs du mal." Sounds like a series to definitely follow. McSweeney opens the first installment by contemplating her hearing loss and wondering "Where is Art going and where has it been?" From there:

2. One kind of hearing dropped away, another rose up to fill its place; my blighted auditory canals bristled with roses; I was becoming-medium, what Kim Hyesoon calls Hearing the Abandoned. I could no longer fantasize myself a ‘font’ of art, a creator, an originator, as all my Anglo-American training had tried to authorize me. I am a medium for Art—a medium in both the occult sense and in the technological sense—Art passes through me, becomes formal, communicable, then goes elsewhere, then it’s gone.

Like any poet would say about poetry—

I don’t know what it is, but I know when it’s gone.

3. This unauthorized way of thinking led me to think of Art in infernal and upsidedown ways—that Art comes not from on high but from Hell, is not orderly but counterproductive, that it seeps, that it influences, that it pollutes, contaminates, exhilarates, intoxicates—that it fluctuates, that it swoops from minus to plus and back again, or occupies all these poles at once. A doubleness, a dubious Sublime.

I wrote The Necropastoral under this influence.

4. But lately I’ve been thinking about the intensity of lyric poetry, its hook, its snare, its barb, its whatness, that something else that makes a mere draft an actual poem—I don’t know what it is but I know when it’s gone. That surplus is also, contradictorily enough, essential. An “essential surplus” is a contradiction in terms, a paradox—and another definition of the Sublime. The Sublime activates both sides of any binary. The double activation of a binary produces an irrational (non-Cartesian) bolt of energy that is infernal, political. Another name for this bolt of energy is Art, or, the Virtual.

Continue on at the Fanzine where McSweeney close-reads Keats's "Bright Star."

Originally Published: August 31st, 2017