Surfaciality
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27 Surfaciality The poet issues reminders for what we already know and interprets what we already understand but have not made explicit. Poetry takes things as they are and as they are understood by us, but in a way that we have covered over through force of habit, a contempt born of familiarity, or what Fernando Pessoa ’s heteronym Alberto Caeiro calls ‘a sickness of the eyes’. Poetry returns us to our familiarity with things through the de-familiarization of poetic saying , it provides what Caeiro calls ‘lessons in unlearning ’ where we finally see what is under our noses. What the poet discovers is what we knew already, but had covered up: the world in its plain simplicity and palpable presence. In this way, we can perhaps reach lucidity. But this lucidity is not a propositional explicitness, it is not the cognitive awareness that ‘water is everywhere and at all times two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen’, or that ‘Benjamin 28 Franklin was the inventor of the lightning rod’. It is rather a lucidity at the level of feeling of what Heidegger calls mood (Stimmung) that the poetic word articulates without making cognitively explicit , as when Pessoa writes in a text on sensationism , ‘Lucidity should only reach the threshold of the soul. In the very antechambers of feeling it is forbidden to be explicit’. Poetry produces felt variations in the appearances of things that return us to the understanding of things that we endlessly pass over in our desire for knowledge. Poetry, in the broad sense of Dichtung or creation is the disclosure of existence, the difficult bringing to appearance of the fact that things exist. By listening to the poet’s words, we are drawn outside and beyond ourselves to a condition of being there with things where they do not stand over against us as objects, but where we stand with those things in an experience of what I like to call, with a nod to Rilke, openedness, a being open to things, an interpretation which is always already an understanding (hence the past tense) in the surfacial space of disclosure. If this sounds a little mystical, then I’d like to say with Caeiro, ‘está bem, tenho-o’ ‘that’s fine, I have it’. If there is a mystery to things, then it is not at all other-worldly, or some mysticism of the hidden. 29 On the contrary, the mystery of things is utterly of this world and the labour of the poet consists in the difficult elaboration of the space of existence, the openedness within which we stand. Of course, one might respond that Caeiro is simply replacing one kind of mysticism with another: that is, rejecting an other-worldly mysticism of the transcendent beyond with the here-and-now mysticism of immanent presence. To which Caeiro might also say, ‘está bem’; his would be a mysticism of the bodily presence of things to the senses. The contrast is between what we might calls a mysticism of gnosis that claims to see beyond appearances to their invisible source of meaning and an agnostic mysticism that just sees appearance. Caeiro does not claim to know anything about nature; he simply sings what he sees, Se quiserem que eu tenha um misticismo, está bem, tenho-o. Sou místico, mas só com o corpo. A minha alma é simples e não pensa. O meu misticismo é não querer saber. É viver e não pensar nisso. 30 Não sei o que é a Natureza: canto-a. Vivo no cimo dum outeiro Numa casa caiada e sozinha, E essa é a minha definição. If you’d like me to have a mysticism, that’s fine, I have it. I’m a mystic, but only with the body. My soul is simple and doesn’t think.  My mysticism is not wanting to know. It is to live and not to think about this.  I don’t know what nature is: I sing it. I live in the top of a small hill In a whitewashed and solitary house, And this is my definition. For Caeiro, we need an apprenticeship in unlearning in order to learn to see and not to think. We need to learn to see appearances and nothing more, and to see those appearances not as the appearances of some deeper, but veiled reality, but as real appearances . Of course, it is often hugely difficult to even see those appearances as our vision becomes obscured by habit...