Friday, January 31, 2020

Swamp Formalism

The Black Run Preserve in Evesham, NJ

No post this month, but I've a couple of updates:

1.) A short story of mine appears in the latest issue of The Southwest Review. It's print-only, but please don't let that stop you.

2.) Third novel is almost 50% through the revisions process—page 338 out of 698. Slow and thirsty work. Seems like every two pages I've had to interpolate new passages and completely rewrite old ones. (This would be why I haven't a burnt-on-the-outside-frozen-on-the-inside essay about defunct philosophies or a radical-behaviorist cultural analysis to offer you this month.) My hope is that this new book will be among the longest, most meticulous self-published novels read by the fewest number of people in (un?)recorded history. I might not even make an announcement when it's done: I'll just drop it on Amazon (not thrilled about using it, but that's a conversation for another time) and quietly get on with my life.

Awful lot of grief for such a small prospective yield. But if nothing else, it's keeping me off the drugs.

Since I've promised myself that I'd put something up on this thing at least once per month, I'd like to share a short essay by the late Jack Collom, transcribed from his collection Second Nature (2012). As I've said before, my acquaintance with Collom was brief, but in the years since I've come to think of him as an indirect guide and mentor. If I myself had conceived of and written "Swamp Formalism," I'd be proud to call it a manifesto.

Swamp Formalism 
"Eco-ethos-eros." What we're in the middle of, what we think about it, what we feel about it. Lots to talk about. 
I'm going to try to recite a personal thought-process.
In the early 1940s, when I was 13, I read about a situation on the Kaibab Plateau, north rim of the Grand Canyon. The wolves and cougars had been shot off; hence the deer multiplied; thus the browse and vegetative cover was largely destroyed; therefore the starving deer sickened and died; ergo not much nature left, on the surface anyway. 
I've been a Balance-of-Nature fan ever since. 
So: due to either a moralistic or selfish-greedy, or both, elimination of predators, the balance of nature was locally wrecked. The world is dotted like a dense pox with such stories, large and small. And they interweave. 
Let me pause here and remark that some citizens have declared the Balance of Nature invalid. That's B.S., and pernicious. Nature doesn't maintain a pure, unchanging, even-keel balance; it's an upsy-downsy, propulsive, real balance. 

Experiencing Nature as a dynamic balance, embracing contradictions, one is naturally led to such a concept as Swamp Formalism. A mindset that unifies liquidity and detail. This metaphor came to me about 20 years ago. Partly, I wanted to be just to Nature. In the swamp, there's, apparently, a living disjunct between soupiness and precision. Historically, humankind has used such apparent binaries to condemn much of nature as sloppy, and has set out to improve it, make it more orderly, when it's really been subjective human phenomenological inadequacies and distortions that have created "slop." Compounded by the hubris that claims exactitude as a property of the human, examining mind. Pythagoras was wonderful——especially for saying, "Everything is alive!"—but his discoveries were approximations in a greater, subtler reality than he or anyone can imagine. Nature is just not sloppy. Judgment is. Our environment is a great ocean on which we happen to ride like a handful of colossally egocentric bubbles. We've applied our tinhorn absolutisms to a much bigger Sea than we can see into. The insights of Chaos Theory can help us realize the exactitudes that exist and function in scales other than the scale of our normal perceptions. Bigger and smaller. It's the fractal approach. At the molecular level, and at every scale, the swamp is precise. It's just too complex for our understanding. With a just appreciation, with knowledge, we can work and play with Nature (the rest of Nature). Swamp formalism. With a spit-and-polish morality and a grid aesthetic, we can only abuse it. 
The secret of Chaos Theory is: "Little things mean a lot." Eros has always known this. 
Historically, we've drained swamps wholesale——destroying concentrations of biodiversity, along with those twin sources of life: dirt and water. Then we've brought dirt and water in artificially, depleting the larger sources and poisoning the plate. We've turned fields into lawns, jungles into parks, prairies into dustbowls, and, with short-sighted greed playing a larger part, Earth into a lunchbox, with our name on it. We evolved for immediacy, so that greed——you can even say "desire"——overpowers our scanty sense of time. And our cleverness pushes destructive technologies along time's road ahead of us a thousand times stronger than it pushes philosophy into any sense of future. 
I think we needn't abolish closure, absolutism, labels, certainty and the like; we "must" (beware that word) simply include them in a greater show and flow. And if that slightly emasculates those tight qualities, let it be so. 
But more and more, in recent years, the cries of the ecologists and the songs of the creative writers have reached...more ears. Partly, this is because the world situation is more obviously desperate. But public opinion forms its own swamps, not all of them life-giving. Being composed of opinion, they don't necessarily have the precise working fractal depths a real swamp does. They may fall short of Swamp Formalism. 
Another reason I like Swamp Formalism is that it's an exciting approach to poetic composition: it evokes the complications, multiplies the axes, introduces numerous slant vectors, sifts and strews miscellany. Helps us appreciate varied does of time. And, everything circles around: 
Perhaps via the springboard of composition, various Beethoven's 9ths, Gertrude Stein syntax, Rembrandts and Pollocks, special acts and tones of kindness, loving work, even some organization, we can evolve a communal philosophy, with arms that reach as far along the path as tech already does, a workable balance. 
I don't know. If disaster is the only way the planet can keep a larger balance going, let it be. The viruses will survive, and the bacteria will start over.

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