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University of Toronto Quarterly 75.4 (2006) 925-945

'I believe in enmindment':
Enlightenments, Taoism, and Language in Peter Dale Scott's Minding the Darkness
Jason Boulet
PhD Candidate, Department of English, Queen's University

How can we attune // our self clouded intellects / to the mysteries of Tao[?].

(Minding the Darkness, 32)

In Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, Peter Dale Scott neatly summarizes his poetic agenda: 'In my poetry I take issue with the Enlightenment contempt for poetry and religion; I propose that, in the spirit of Dante or the Tao Te Ching, we should move instead toward a deeper Enmindment that respects the truths of darkness, as well as those of light' (22). The focus of Scott's critique is not 'human rationality itself' but 'that imperfect ideological crystalization [sic] of it which we call the Enlightenment': 'The defect here has not been that of rationality, but only of the historic ideologies put forth in reason's name' (Deep, 22). Scott's 'Enmindment' is not a thoroughgoing repudiation of 'light' and reason in favour of 'darkness' and mystery but, rather, 'the translation of light / into awareness of the dark' (Minding, 11), which necessarily has its origins in a critique of the clear certainties of the Enlightenment: 'to fault enlightenment / for its lack of kinship with the dark / is to think critically once again' (14). Scott's attempt to 'think critically' about enlightenment and thus negotiate 'the truths of darkness, as well as those of light,' is most clearly evident in the third volume of his Seculum trilogy, 1 aptly titled Minding the Darkness. In this volume, which he has called his 'most important book' ('Note to Visitors'), Scott attempts 'to reconcile the movements of secular (historical) enlightenment, and of spiritual (personal) enlightenment' ('Afterword,' 246) in the hope of reaching, or at least inspiring, Enmindment. I would like first to clarify the precise object of Scott's critique, which is considerably more complex than his distinction between 'secular' and 'spiritual enlightenment' suggests, [End Page 925] and then proceed to examine the ways in which Taoist thought 2 – to which he points in his praise of the Tao Te Ching – both informs his critique and leads him to seek the key to Enmindment in the use and abuse of language.

Throughout Minding the Darkness, Scott uses the figure of his dead father – politician and poet F.R. Scott – as a representative of the secular Enlightenment ideology that he critiques. Scott paints his father as a 'rationalist reformer' ('Afterword,' 246) who, convinced that 'the orthodox was wrong' (Minding, 22), optimistically believed 'politics [were] the only road to heaven' (22) and thought 'that misery could be replaced // by imagination and large-scale planning' (22–23). F.R. Scott 'persistently opposed the blindness of religion to the enlightenment of modern politics' (Ware, 831), in the belief that the replacement of an irrational and sectarian adherence to traditional religious orthodoxies 3 by a secular humanist worldview would eventually lead to an utopian world-community. Scott generally depicts his father as a 'victim' to the familiar narrative of 'willed Enlightenment' (Minding, 116), 4 in which the dawning light of human reason disperses the mystery and darkness produced by old superstitions and dogmas, leading to the resolution of religion-based conflicts and, consequentially, a brighter tomorrow for Humanity at large: 'my father's heaven // was the future of man ... the human race was his race' (Listening, 98, 99). The radical promoters [End Page 926] of secular Enlightenment cast themselves as the proponents of progress and 'innovation' (Minding, 184), while casting the religious fundamentalists as agents of retrogression – in their own terms, 'conservation' (184). Scott, however, clearly contradicts this progressive narrative of 'willed Enlightenment' by repeatedly rendering its radical attempts to 'engineer // new projects for humane / and rational community' (12) equivalent to battles waged over conservative visions of religious purity. Scott accomplishes this by paralleling the legacies of repression and destruction inspired by the utopian visions and paradisal dreams of both secular...


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